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IBM Corp. Wednesday announced a new version of its WebSphere application server platform, citing enhancements such as high-availability, new capabilities for building service oriented architectures (SOA), and better resource utilization and improvements to the environment that could improve overall efficiency by up to 75 percent, the company said.

WebSphere 6.0 features new autonomic features to detect system problems automatically and react by saving or rerouting network traffic to other servers in a cluster. This failover and simultaneous detection-and-recovery capability is new to WebSphere and can help companies reduce losses due to system outages, said Bob Sutor, IBM’s director of WebSphere software. He said outages can cost as much as $6.5 million an hour in some industries such as retail brokerage and $17,000 an hour in consumer banking.

“So we’ve focused on delivering a high-availability manager directly to the application server itself,” said Sutor. “We’ve added a lot of smarts to the app server infrastructure. Like we’ve added some autonomic features so it can sense when one of its ‘buddies’ in a cluster is no longer working.”

Meanwhile, IBM has beefed up WebSphere as a component in SOA development. The new version supports the Web Services Interoperability Organization’s Basic Profile 1.1, complies with J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) 1.4 and supports the WS-Security and WS-Transactions specifications. It also features a Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) 3.0 registry and a new Java messaging engine.

eWEEK’s Peter Coffee ponders the problems of immature standards and encryption attacks for developers and adopters of Web services. Read more here of his opinion.

“We have built a brand new all-Java messaging engine for WebSphere 6” that delivers improved management and up to five times the performance of previous versions of the platform, Sutor said.

“We’re improving the WebSphere administration console. And integration of the messaging engine with the MQ backbone is now much easier. We see this as an additional advancement in adding Enterprise Service Bus capability,” he said.

In addition, Sutor said IBM is using its Cloudscape database, also known as Derby, under the covers to power this capability.

Cloudscape recently went open source. Click here for more on the strategy behind the move.

In addition, IBM has sped up the SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) parser in WebSphere “so Web services processing will be faster,” Sutor said. “This is good for ISVs. This was an ISV requirement to improve the user experience.”

The new version, which had gone by the codename Vela, also features a new transport channel service that enables the application server to deal with all sorts of different protocols, Sutor said.

“An application server lives and dies by how well it talks to the rest of the universe. … This is a re-architecture of how we deal with all these types of protocols, all these connections. And we have doubled the number of connections you can have to a given application server.”

For developers, IBM has added a new framework featuring wizards to reduce the tedious parts of application development that are often hand coded. “This significantly reduces the complexity of a developer’s job,” Sutor said.

Moreover, IBM rebranded two of its core WebSphere development tools. IBM WebSphere Studio Site Developer and WebSphere Studio Application Developer will be re-branded as IBM Rational Web Developer for WebSphere Software and Rational Application Developer for WebSphere Software, respectively, when they become available later this year.

IBM also announced WebSphere Application Server Express Version 6.

Next Page: Analysts and Competitors Weigh In on the new WebSphere

“I’d say on the whole that Version 6.0 represents an ‘improvement’ release more so than a revolutionary, new-feature-release one,” said Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, of Waltham, Mass.

“This version has significant improvements in performance, usability, and integration with developer tools, not to mention a renaming of one of the products to the Rational brand. So, while I wouldn’t be looking for ‘earth-shattering’ new features in this release, what the world needs now are products that work, not lots of new half-implemented features that don’t. So this release furthers the solidification of the features IBM has been building as part of their ever-increasing WebSphere product brand,” Schmelzer said.

IBM also announced that IBM WebSphere Extended Deployment Version 5.1, which will automatically optimize the performance of companies’ software and hardware is expected to ship on Oct. 22. Other new software offerings expected before the end of the year include new WebSphere Portal software and new host access, speech and mobile middleware, the company said.

A recent study says that Microsoft Corp.’s Visual Studio .Net tops WebSphere for development. Click here to read more.

Meanwhile, IBM competitors weighed in saying IBM is late to the game. Both Oracle Corp. and BEA Systems Inc. said IBM is at least one to two versions behind them in the application server functionality race.

“IBM continues to play catch-up,” said Rob Cheng, product director of Oracle Application Server and Tools, adding that IBM was two generations behind Oracle.

“Oracle 9i [application server] had all these features and with 10g we’re not just talking about failover but provisioning, automated monitoring and management and grid. IBM is still dealing with problems of the past. Manageability and reducing complexity are key to Oracle and IBM is not providing it.”

Read an eWEEK Labs review of Oracle 10g here.

Eric Stahl, senior director of product management at BEA, said, “We believe we are two years ahead in the application server and platform space over IBM.”

Stahl added that while “this big announcement about making their system highly available and integrating the product line is good and necessary for IBM, these are things we’ve had before.”

Stahl said not only does BEA provide failover support, but in the upcoming version of BEA WebLogic due in beta by the end of January, the application server will enable users to upgrade the server or add applications and do adjustments without taking the system down.

Click here to read an interview with BEA chief architect Adam Bosworth.

Tim Dempsey, vice president at Sonic Software Corp., which has been touting its ESB technology for some time, said “because IBM felt it was necessary to aggressively position capabilities around SOA and the Enterprise Service Bus, that ratifies the vision we had a couple of years ago when we released an ESB.”

“The app server guys are needing to expand their capabilities as that part of the market becomes commoditized,” Dempsey said. “We’re seeing lots of success where customers see ESBs as a way to move away from those kinds of architectures.”

At the same time, Dempsey pointed out that IBM does not itself offer an ESB product, but that several IBM products taken together would constitute an ESB.

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