In a case study he wrote for his students, Professor Chris Trimble of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College said, "The WebSphere application server had gained considerable momentum by 2002. IBM released new versions every year. Standards were evolving quickly, and that created complexity. IBM inevitably created some uniqueness in its software but linked to external standards wherever possible."
Trimble, who spent time in Somers studying WebSphere, also said, "As of 2002, IBM's strategic objective for WebSphere was straightforward: to offer the most capable application server on the market. The key criteria buyers would evaluate were the number of systems with which the server could connect (e.g., IBM databases, IBM mainframes, Oracle databases, SAP enterprise software, Siebel [CRM] customer relationship management software, and so forth) and their security, speed, scalability and reliability. Also, buyers evaluated how easy it was to develop new applications to run on the application server."
But by 2004 the ambitions for WebSphere expanded and other IBM software brands contributed to the family of WebSphere products
"As WebSphere expanded from its core product, the WebSphere application server, to a broader tool set for programmers, the WebSphere brand also expanded, from a certain set of features to a philosophy of how modern corporate IT systems should be built and managed," Trimble said. "One core tenet of the philosophy was that applications developed using WebSphere should be interoperable with most any system and easy to reuse."
In an e-mail exchange with eWEEK, Trimble added that other factors leading to the success of WebSphere included, "The senior management team was directly involved, in a critical way, by closely managing the interactions between nascent businesses like WebSphere and the rest of the company, ensuring that the WebSphere could leverage IBM's massive assets without getting destroyed by quarter-to-quarter hit-the-numbers imperatives. And IBM invested steadily in WebSphere over 10 years, even as the rest of the industry went through the dot-com boom and bust."
Meanwhile, IBM continued to deal with stiff competition from products such as BEA's WebLogic. However, "BEA never really embraced a true next-generation design. Their design point was simpler and more vulnerable to attacks from below," Mills said, referring to offerings such as the open-source JBoss application server.
Mills said WebSphere is in the same class as core IBM technologies such as the mainframe-based IMS (Information Management System) database and the CICS (Customer Information Control System) transaction server.
"In Java application servers, I consistently see WebSphere, Oracle WebLogic (former BEA) and JBoss," said John Rymer, an analyst with Forrester. "Sun GlassFish is a challenger to JBoss' dominant mind share among open-source options that clients are starting to bring up."
Craig Hayman, vice president of WebSphere in the Application and Integration Middleware Software Division of the IBM Software Group, said he has been working on WebSphere since its inception 10 years ago.
"In the early days we took WebSphere from an idea to a product, then from a product to a platform, and then from a platform to an SOA [service-oriented architecture] portfolio," Hayman said.