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IBM looks to offer more 'self-management'

New version of Websphere aimed at cuttting downtime.

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IBM has revealed the first details about the next version of its WebSphere Application Server, with the biggest improvement being new self-management capabilities designed to cut downtime, the company said. The software, due by the end of this year, will also include improvements in Web Services standards support, scaling, performance and application building.

Application Server is part of a suite that also includes Portal, Business Integration and Studio Application Developer. The products are designed to give companies a standards-based middleware stack on which to build, run and tie together their applications, particularly in vertical industries such as banking, financial markets, insurance and telecommunications. WebSphere competes with similar products from BEA Systems, Oracle, Microsoft and others.

IBM said that version 6 of the software will be the first application server to integrate automated self-management capabilities, which formerly had to be carried out manually or brought in from third-party products. The company added that the self-management capability has been designed to detect application failures before they become a serious problem, redirecting data to a failover server on the same premises or at another facility. BEA has said it is building similar capabilities into upcoming products.

IBM said its research has found that outages can cost $6.5 million per hour in the retail brokerage industry, $2.6 million in the credit card authorisations business and $17,000 in banking.

Other Version 6 tweaks aim at improving efficiency and standards support. A drag-and-drop development environment allows developers to create applications more quickly by eliminating hand coding; they can also test the applications once and then deploy them across different kinds of systems. The system scales better to provide access to more users at the same time, reducing administrative and licensing costs and making applications more flexible. A new tool simplifes the configuration of clusters, and IBM has generally increased performance and reduced startup time, the company said.

The software adds support for several new Web services standards, including WS-Security, WS-Transactions and WS-I Basic Profile 1.1 for ensuring interoperability. Standards support has been one of IBM's major drives with WebSphere.

The next version of Application Server - Express, the edition aimed at smaller businesses, will be more consistent with the enterprise edition, supporting Java 1.4 and the same Web services standards.

IBM is making new versions of WebSphere Studio Site Developer and Studio Application Developer in the fourth quarter, the company said, and will be renaming the products Rational Web Developer for WebSphere and Rational Application Developer for WebSphere. New versions of Portal and host access, speech and mobile middleware are also on the way by the end of the year. IBM didn't reveal pricing.

Last week the company ported its integrated middleware packages for the government, banking and retail sectors to Linux for the first time. IBM's Middleware Industry Solutions contain technology from WebSphere, DB2, Tivoli, Lotus, and Rational tools, packaged for particular industries; they are already available on Windows and Unix, and IBM said these three industries are adopting Linux particularly quickly. At the same time IBM announced its first Linux support for WebSphere Business Integration Server, 4.3, the latest version of the server.

Traditional proprietary-software companies currently pose the biggest competition to IBM's middleware packages, but open-source projects such as the JBoss and Apache Geronimo application servers are on the rise. JBoss said it planned to introduce business process management (BPM) software, and the Apache project recently founded an open-source BPM project called Agila.

In the meantime, IBM is on a drive to get partners to integrate its middleware into their products. The biggest such agreement so far was a $1 billion deal signed last month that will see PeopleSoft integrate its applications with WebSphere, and both companies co-develop functions that will work across PeopleSoft and WebSphere products. SAP has often called for such integration and Oracle recently said it would open up its products to integration with outside applications.



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