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iSeries WebSphere strategy update: Improvements on the way

Jim Mason reviews IBM's WebSphere strategy for version 5, which fixes many of the problems the version 4 strategy created.

Jim Mason

New versions announced, more coming

In May, IBM announced version 5 of WebSphere Application Server. Availability for version 5 was scheduled for sometime in the third quarter of this year for many platforms, most likely for the common servers platform (Windows, AIX, Linux). ISeries and zSeries servers usually are released later. It's hard to read through announcements since they are 75% marketing statements and 25% facts. Pricing has not been announced yet. But we DO have an overview of the packaging and features in WebSphere version 5.0 from the IBM announcements.

Better product packaging

The old packaging for iSeries version 4 was labeled: WebSphere Advanced and WebSphere Advanced Single Server. Sounds a lot like the old joke: "Here's my brother Darryl and my other brother Darryl." Essentially you had the same functionality with two different names, with the exception of the deployment environment runtime and tools for performance management and monitoring. In version 5, logic returns with the original three-tier model for the product based on functionality.

The three versions are as follows:

  • WebSphere Application Server Express
  • WebSphere Application Server
  • WebSphere Application Server Enterprise

(Wouldn't it be nice if IBM kept the name Advanced for the middle option to make it easier to understand WHICH version you were referring to?)

WebSphere Application Server Express
This new version of WebSphere will be important to most iSeries customers, since it appears to be the replacement for the current Standard Edition 3.5x that IBM provides free to iSeries customers. The proposed feature list for Express includes the following:

  • J2EE Web container support for JSPs and JSP tag libraries (1.2) and servlets (2.3)
  • Web services consumer support: You access Web services in your applications but can't create them
  • Easier HTTP-based administration and setup using wizards
  • Simple application assembly and deployment to the server
  • A version of WebSphere Studio Site Developer optimized for Express applications
  • A bundle of sample applications with links to third-party applications
  • Easy migration to WebSphere Application Server

WebSphere Application Server
This version is similar to the version 4 Advanced edition with higher J2EE support levels. Benefits for version 5 are listed under four areas: Web services, integration with legacy applications, better performance and better administration (an area that has clearly needed improvement).

Key features version 5 supports include the following:

  • J2EE 1.3 standard support for enterprise applications, including Java Message Service (JMS)
  • Three interface options for administration, including a Web browser interface, XML and a JMX API
  • Support for administering distributed applications
  • Java Connector Architecture for integrating back-end applications in a standard way
  • Performance improvements such as caching, workload management and Quality of Service (QoS)
  • More security enhancements with third-party authorization tools

WebSphere Application Server Enterprise
What will IBM deliver on the iSeries? I think we will see both Application Server and the Express products. Enterprise probably won't be delivered on iSeries due to lack of customer demand for its advanced application features: rules-based programming, better J2EE workflow support for composing applications visually, more fine-grained control over transactions, more enhancements for query services and message beans. Many of the development features listed for this release are provided by the WebSphere Application Developer Integrator edition toolset.

Common sense iSeries e-business strategy

Practically for the first time, smaller businesses can now look at implementing real, dynamic Web sites integrating existing applications and data on the Web live. (So long to many shops using Visual Basic on Windows servers as Web front ends for iSeries applications and data.)

If your company is just starting with e-business, WebSphere Express is the right answer in most instances unless you have other specific requirements, for example, an application solution that requires WebSphere Application Server.

Here's a look at what's not included in the Express version from a J2EE perspective in terms of application functionality:

  • Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) support
  • Java Message Service (JMS) support for message based application beans
  • Java Connector Architecture (JCA) as a standard for integrating legacy applications
  • Web services provider support so you can create and publish your own web services

If these are significant items, you'll need to spend the money to go to the WebSphere Application Server version. Of all of the above items, the Web services provider support is the only one that you DON'T have a simple work around for. You don't have to use EJB for Java applications at all. You don't need JMS to effectively create message-based applications in Java (you can use a table or data queue) and JCA is a Java standard you can write to without getting WebSphere Application Server.

The good news for iSeries customers starting with e-business and those few running on WebSphere Standard Edition version 3.5x is that IBM has given you somewhere useful to go with WebSphere Express. Current customers should see Standard Edition support continue until early next year when Express becomes available. Of course you can also run your Web sites on Apache Tomcat.

Tomcat -- will IBM do the right thing?

When IBM dropped iSeries WebSphere version 4 in our laps and discontinued a free version of WebSphere (Standard Edition), they said we should get the Apache Software Foundation's Java Web application server, Tomcat, if we wanted a free server. It was a good idea in hindsight -- for us. IBM didn't realize that users might choose to stay with Tomcat and not upgrade to the more expensive WebSphere server once their Web sites were running.

Tomcat was bundled in the IBM HTTP server for V4R5 and V5R1. It turned out to be a very good, basic server for Java Web applications built on JSPs and servlets. It was A LOT easier to setup using just a Web browser.

If IBM didn't distribute Tomcat with the HTTP server you could still go to www.apache.org and download Tomcat for free. The challenge is it wouldn't be as easy to setup for a new user as the integrated IBM version has been.

The current production version of Tomcat from Apache is 4.03. The version IBM supplies with the HTTP Server is 3.2.4. The newer version offers much better configuration options, performance and higher levels of J2EE Web support. It also can be extended with a large variety of XML runtime tools from Apache as well. The only challenge here is integration of the added XML services (other than the base Xerces and Xalan jars included with Tomcat.)

Do you want to keep Tomcat on the iSeries? Most of you would probably vote yes -- it is open-source, J2EE standards-based, free, performs well and is reasonably easy to administer. Will IBM continue packaging Tomcat in with the HTTP server? It should. It shows IBM Rochester is serious about an open, e-business platform based on standards.

Your next steps

  1. Visit IBM's Web site for WebSphere version 5 information.
  2. Visit IBM's iSeries WebSphere site to keep abreast of announcements as they come out. (IBM Rochester usually doesn't provide much advanced planning information on coming products.)
  3. Stay tuned to Search400, which provides very good "planning lead time" on coming iSeries WebSphere news.
  4. The QuickWebSupport site, will provide free tutorials on WebSphere Express usage when it becomes available.

About the author: Jim Mason is president of ebt-now.com, and he writes, consults, teaches, designs and develops iSeries Web applications using Java, WebSphere, DB2, Lotus Domino and the WebSphere Development Tools for iSeries.

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