IBM's WebSphere application server turns 10 and adds Web 2.0, SOA and RIA capabilities.
ARMONK, N.Y.-IBM Senior Vice President
and Software Group General Manager Steve Mills met with three of his top
lieutenants in his office back in 1997 to discuss the "Webification"
of IBM's enterprise tools. Out of that
discussion the IBM WebSphere Application
Server was born.
In an interview here at IBM headquarters,
Mills told eWEEK how he and Danny Sabbah, John Swainson and Alfred Spector met
in Mills' office in Somers, N.Y.,
to discuss IBM's future in the nascent
application server space when the market competition was growing hot and heavy.
Only Sabbah remains at IBM of the three
lieutenants. Sabbah, who was Mills' CTO at
the time, is now general manager of IBM's
Rational business unit. Swainson is CEO of
CA, and Spector is vice president of research and special initiatives at
Mills recalled that at the initial meeting a discussion emerged about which
HTTP server to use. "Besides a Web browser you also needed an HTTP server
stack," Mills said. And while IBM had
one of its own, "the most popular was the Apache Web server, and we made a
decision to anchor our effort to Apache because it had 47 percent market
share," he said.
Back then the competition in the application server space included companies
like Bluestone Software, Silverstream, NetDynamics, Kiva Software, Allaire and
WebLogic, which was an independent company then.
Following that initial meeting in his office, Mills sanctioned a small team
of about 25 people in Raleigh, N.C.,
to begin working on the technology that was to become WebSphere.
Chris Wicher, who is now vice president of Mid-Market Solutions in IBM's
Software Group, was the original WebSphere product development executive back
in January of 1998 when the team began working on the technology.
"When we started WebSphere, the first two releases-in the second
quarter of 1998 and the third quarter of 1998-were focused on rapid development
and deployment of Web applications supporting HTTP, Servlet and JSP [Java
Server Pages] apps," Wicher said. However, "IBM
quickly extended WAS [WebSphere Application Server] to transactional
applications and beyond, driven by customer needs, and anticipating where
companies would want to have extensions to gain more value to their
Describing the initial setting, Wicher said, "We started WebSphere in
the first quarter of 1998 at the request of Steve Mills, with a small team of
IBMers who knew the emerging Web technologies and what customers were trying to
do. ... Within six weeks of starting the project, we went back to Steve Mills with
a prototype. He quickly absorbed what we had and where we were headed, gave us
guidance on leveraging the Apache Web server, created the name, and asked us, 'How
fast can you ship this as a formal IBM
Wicher said his team worked at a furious pace to deliver the first generally
available WebSphere release.
"This cycle time for a formal product-from prototype concept to GA in
less than four months-was fairly revolutionary in IBM
in those days, so everyone on the team assumed multiple roles," Wicher
"The managers were working managers, including writing docs, testing,
working with customers and doing the product planning. The 'developers' did it
all ... design, coding, testing, quality certification, customer betas, pubs,
etc. It was like being in an atmosphere where the team was on a quest-high
energy, everyone passionate about delivering a real product to market which
customers really liked (on an unheard-of schedule).
"The team turned right
around and put out a second release three months later. Again, the energy, the
'quest passion' made all obstacles seem insignificant. This is not to say that
people were not tired. In this time frame, the managers were bringing in pizzas
every night to the team. And the days and nights were long, but the
team-generated energy was contagious," he said.
However, despite delivering two versions of WebSphere in 1998, "by the
end of the year, customers were saying, 'Our problem is not totally solved,'"
Mills said. IBM customers said they wanted
their transaction monitoring software and their component broker technology to
work alongside their application servers, he said. "They said these three
things are different and life could be easier if you gave us one thing." IBM
had acquired Transarc, which was the maker of the Encina transaction
monitor-which also is where Alfred Spector came from as founder and CEO
So IBM set out to deliver on this request
and by 2002 had delivered all the functionality customers were asking for while
also extending the technology, Mills said.
Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.