IBM used its DeveloperWorks Live conference in San Francisco to announce the forthcoming availability of the latest version of its application server. It claims WebSphere 5.0 is the first in the industry to offer "true" compliance with emerging Web services standards, providing seamless process-level integration between J2EE and Microsoft .NET environments. Big Blue also announced a raft of tweaks and upgrades to other products in its ever-widening WebSphere middleware and integration stable.
Context: Recent data puts IBM either on level footing or just ahead of its chief rival BEA Systems in the Java-based application server space, giving both companies about a third of the market each -- though Big Blue claims its business is growing faster than BEA's.
While the growing maturity of the application server market is prompting some to comment that the major players have more or less reached functional parity with their products, IBM says its latest efforts demonstrate it is ahead of the technology curve. The technology component is only part of the overall value proposition, but IBM believes it latest raft of updates will continue to apply the pressure on its main rivals.
Application server and integration technologies may solve different problems, but IBM claims its differentiator is the convergence of the two technologies, with the application server as the underlying "engine." Hence the rebranding of IBM's integration middleware under the WebSphere banner, which now incorporates MQ Series and the business process integration technology it acquired from CrossWorlds.
Features: WebSphere Version 5.0 is with beta customers now and will start shipping during the third quarter. Key updates include full compliance with J2EE 1.3, the latest spec to emerge from the Java community, as well as "advanced" Web services capabilities.
Although IBM claimed WebSphere 4.0 was the industry's first app server to support Web services standards such as XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI (which BEA would strongly contest), V5 incorporates something IBM calls dynamic application interaction.
While Web services-based applications are developed using standards such as WSDL or SOAP, the interaction of these applications at a process or workflow level is actually written expressly for either the .NET or the J2EE environment, IBM argues. Until now, this required extra coding to allow Web services to exist in truly heterogeneous environments. IBM says WebSphere V5 is the first application server to bridge this automatically.
It does this through improved integration between Java Message Service (JMS) and Enterprise JavaBean (EJB) environments, which handle the interactions among J2EE components and other messaging systems, including those written for .NET. Together with advanced J2EE Connector Architecture (JCA) support, this has the net effect of allowing developers to expose J2EE and .NET-based applications and Web services as reusable services, which can in turn expose application flows as a Web service. Additionally, Business Rule Beans allow business analysts to update business rules without having to hand-code application changes.
"Customers are starting to deploy Web services, but they don't want to make a J2EE or .NET decision," says Ed Harbour, director of WebSphere Commerce at IBM. IBM says it is the only vendor that has publicly announced such a capability.
In tune with IBM's commitment to cross-pollinate technologies in its middleware portfolio, V5 comes bundled with website performance management, authentication and access control software from Tivoli.
Product strategy: IBM also released new and rebundled versions of its integration software that are designed to simplify the pricing and packaging structure and form a springboard for forthcoming 'verticalized' releases.
New technologies include the WebSphere MQ Event Broker, an extension to IBM's message queuing family that allows businesses to 'multicast' unique information to subscribers based on their individual preferences. IBM claims its ability to publish this information across public networks is unique, although it admits other multicasting products such as Tibco's software from Talarian are broadly comparable.
IBM has also rebundled MQ and CrossWorlds capabilities to target the most complex environments found in large enterprises. WebSphere Business Integration 4.1 focuses on automating business processes, human intervention tasks and data transformation and routing, and as such is an amalgam of technologies previously known as the CrossWorlds InterChange Server, MQ Integrator Broker and MQ Workflow.
The chief component is IBM CrossWorlds 4.1, which consists of a series of process-level connectors for Web services and financial information exchange, as well as extenders for Siebel's Application Network. IBM will continue to repurpose this technology for other vertical markets, including retail distribution, telecom, automotive, electronics and insurance, starting in Q3. It will also release a revamped set of B2B connectors in June, targeted at inter-company business process integration using Web services and other transport protocols.
Conclusion: Although customers should take it as a given that IBM integration technologies will continue to evolve, the announcements this week sharpen IBM's message of being able to solve business-driven integration problems through a series of bite-sized modules designed specifically for a range of vertical industries. The deliverables have yet to arrive, but IBM says all the necessary ISV partnerships are in place for a launch within the next month or so.
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