Next-Gen Nuptials

WebSphere 6 brings Java, Web services together.

The marriage of Web services and Java got a big boost with the release this month of IBMs technology preview of WebSphere Application Server 6.

"This is the first clap of thunder for IBM in 2004" regarding Java and Web services, said Bob Sutor, director of WebSphere infrastructure software at IBM, in Somers, N.Y. J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition) 1.4 is the latest version of J2EE, and its main theme is Web services support. Sutor said IBM has the jump on its competition, namely, BEA Systems Inc., and is getting WebSphere 6 technology to developers early, although the product will not be generally available until midyear.

The free download enables developers to begin working with J2EE 1.4 on the WebSphere code base. "The technical preview gets code into the hands of developers as early as possible," Sutor said. "This is especially important to ISVs who are building on top of WebSphere."

WebSphere 6 represents IBMs next-generation platform for building out SOAs (service-oriented architectures), with support for JCA (J2EE Connector Architecture) 1.5 and the latest Web services standards.

Among Web services standards the new technology supports are JAX-RPC (Java API for XML-based Remote Procedure Calls); Java Specification Request 109, which uses the JAX-RPC programming model; and the Web Services Interoperability Organizations Basic Profile, WS-I 1.0.

"JCA 1.5 is significant because it provides what people have been asking for for years—support for both synchronous and asynchronous communications," such as between J2EE and packaged applications," Sutor said. "Those things really position this as a very important platform for developing service-oriented architectures."

Industry observers say the melding of Java and Web services takes developers into a new era. "What makes this significant is that [IBM is] one of the first on the block to support the [J2EE 1.4] spec as part of a major application server brand," said Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, in Waltham, Mass.

"This means that weve finally moved into an era when developing and delivering application logic through an application server can be done in an SOA and Web services-native way without having to require the developer to install any additional software," Schmelzer said. "So, this means that SOAs and Web services are here to stay. So, now that IBM has embedded SOA and Web services functionality into their products, we can definitely expect more of the same from BEA, Sun [Microsystems Inc.], Oracle [Corp.], and a host of other application server and ESB [enterprise service bus] vendors."

The WebSphere line is significant for other reasons, Sutor said. "Another reason why we think this release is so important to get in the hands of folks is that we think this is going to be the cornerstone of a lot of work being done in vertical markets," he said. "This is part of the componentization of IBMs products."

At the end of last year, IBM began talking about its plans to reorganize its software business around a dozen vertical markets. Buell Duncan, IBMs general manager of ISV and developer relations, said the change is akin to IBMs decision in 1999 to exit the applications business. "Companies are moving to look for solutions that have more industry specificity, and in the software business were taking that to the next level and building products that are industry-specific," Duncan said.

Duncan called the transition "very exciting. When you talk about building vertical-industry solutions, there are industry offerings from which well take our infrastructure and middleware products and combine them."

Officials said the 12 vertical markets IBM will focus on are insurance, banking, financial, automotive, health care, retail/wholesale, consumer packaged goods, utilities, telecommunications, electronics, government and life sciences. IBM will be rolling out solutions and programs throughout the year, they said.

WebSphere 6 is the result of IBMs Project Vela, which set out to componentize IBMs software solutions, primarily WebSphere. Sutor said that not only does WebSphere 6 make it easier for IBM to take on the strategy of selling its software into vertical markets, it also sets the company further apart from its competitors in terms of standards support, industry focus and market coverage.

The WebSphere 6 preview follows closely on the heels of new releases of WebSphere Application Server 5.1, WebSphere Studio Application Developer 5.1.1 and WebSphere Application Server Express 5.1, all of which shipped last month and focus on usability, performance and enhanced features for ISVs, Sutor said.