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J2EE Journal: Article

The Evolving Role of WebSphere

The Evolving Role of WebSphere

Development tools like WebSphere Studio, according to IBM's Scott Hebner, have changed "from being almost rogue initiatives with a lot of customers driven by a couple of departments into really being strategic investments now." And the entire usage of tools like this, and of application servers overall, has, he notes, changed.

WebSphere Developer's Journal editor-in-chief Jack Martin had the opportunity recently to engage with Hebner's entire team, the team behind marketing IBM's WebSphere infrastructure software, in a wide-ranging and exclusive discussion. In this first installment, topics raised include networking challenges, Web services, RAD, the implications of the Eclipse technology pioneered by IBM two years ago, and the dynamics of IBM's on-demand application infrastructure. Most surprising of all is the revelation that WebSphere Studio will soon support the development, testing, and deployment of WebLogic applications.

WSDJ: What I'd like to do is to go around the room and have each of you tell me a little about your job.

Van Overtveldt: Basically, I am sort of the external antenna for the WebSphere marketing team. I work a lot with customers, analysts, and press, first to give them a better understanding of our products and our strategy, but also to learn from them, analyze their requirements, and feed that back into the product teams.

Munsell: I manage the product strategy and marketing for the application server, so I'm really a translator both ways between the development team and the customer. My job is to take what we've created and help customers understand how it helps solve their problems, as well as drive the customer needs back into the development process.

Anthony: I focus on our strategic initiative areas like the edge of network, autonomics, and grid computing, and identify how we are going to take WebSphere and get it out into the extended environment, particularly in the networking area.

Spang: I lead the team that is focused on product marketing for the WebSphere Studio portfolio. Like Amy, I play the role between development and the customer, taking the story out and bringing the requirements back, leading the strategy that's transitioned our distinct tools into a single portfolio with a strategy and a goal for the organization.

Bildfell: I spend a good amount of my time out doing strategic development deals with some of our key business partners that include Macromedia, Rational, Prolifics, and a series of others.

Hebner: I help to lead the portfolio strategies for the WebSphere foundation and tools. That is, the WebSphere Application Server and Studio development environments. Essentially, we drive product requirements, positioning, go-to-market, revenue growth plans, and overall business priorities for these products.

WSDJ: You're coming off a terrific accomplishment of blowing past BEA and Borland over the past couple of years. What do you think are the three biggest changes that have happened in the space over the past couple of years since you have been involved.

Van Overtveldt: The biggest thing for me is that the entire usage of application servers and development tools like WebSphere Studio has changed from being almost rogue initiatives with a lot of customers driven by a couple of departments into really being strategic investments now. Companies are betting their business on this type of technology. They want it to perform; they want it to be manageable; and they want it to run 24/7. That drives a different approach to how you go to market, how you build your products, and how you test your products before you launch them. That, combined with the effort we put in place on getting products out that meet those changed criteria, is a big reason for the success of WebSphere Application Server.

WSDJ: Bernie, from the tools perspective, what has happened over the past couple of years that's significant?

Spang: The most significant thing is the emergence of an open development platform similar to the open server platform with the Web standards and J2EE that's been in place for a number of years. The Eclipse technology we helped launch in 2001 established for the first time an open platform for development tools that all the vendors can build on and extend in the same way that application providers do on the server side.

WSDJ: Was this team the actual muscle that pushed Eclipse?

Spang: This is the team that pushed Eclipse out the door, established the messages and the strategy, and helped launch the consortium itself. We have to give credit to the significant development teams in Ottawa, Raleigh, and Toronto that conceived of, designed, and implemented the technology.

WSDJ: But you're the people who literally got the message into developers' heads and ISVs that Eclipse was a viable way of going about doing things.

Spang: Yes. And set the strategy to do this as an open project, an open consortium in which IBM would have one vote of many - we decided that this was the right way to do it, as opposed to making a proprietary development platform play like some of our competitors have.

WSDJ: Joe, you work with strategies. Were you part of that Eclipse play?

Anthony: Eclipse was driven by Bernie and his team. My role was getting the marketing team focused on questions like, "Which open standards should we go after?" "What are the common things like Web services that are key if you want to accelerate market adoption and customer acceptance?" We didn't want customers fearful of adopting it. If it has some good buzz, if the marketplace is rallying around it, and you have a good partner ecosystem, it will drive WebSphere demand. A focused market results in a much bigger pie for all the competitors to go after. We feel we are delivering a lot more value to the marketplace as a result of the entire ecosystem that we put in place and that will feed our overall growth. So, it's good for us, but it's much better for the overall marketplace as well.

WSDJ: Let me ask you a question that is unique to someone like you as a strategist in this game. When you first heard of the Eclipse concept, how did you view it?

Anthony: It was a great way to get the industry focused. The problem with all this new technology is that while everyone is off playing their own game, the customers get very confused, and they hold off on implementation. This was a great way to get everyone rallied around a common set of objectives with each of the partners bringing their key value-add and delivering the best final total solution to the customer, which is a win-win for everyone involved.

WSDJ: So, you saw it from an economic standpoint first, then a technological standpoint?

Anthony: Right. Because ultimately it is a business. Technology is nice, but if you focus only on technology, it's a going-out-of-business strategy.

WSDJ: Aimee, in the past couple of years, what have you seen come and go?

Munsell: I think the biggest evolution in the application server space is the transition from a stand-alone point product to a broader infrastructure platform. A lot of customers had a lot of individual projects that they had to deploy very quickly and then they realized that they had to connect all these projects or applications together more easily and reliably; they needed a consistent infrastructure. The impact has been that we have had to figure out how to address a very broad set of market and product requirements. We have to focus on how to give a wide range of different applications - whether they are ERP or CRM or whatever- a common operating system for the Internet. Being able to provide that kind of value to partners, as well as bring together the different products across IBM's software portfolio and give them a common foundation for better-integrated, yet flexible, deployment is good for our customers and good for IBM.

WSDJ: Are you involved with embedding Web services into Application Server?

Munsell: Yes. I worked on the initial Web services standards launch, which involved working with Microsoft and agreeing on common standards and introducing those standards into the marketplace. Simultaneously, we worked hard to drive adoption of the standards and value-add productivity tools for Web services into IBM products, particularly WebSphere.

WSDJ: So you had to go toe-to-toe with Microsoft getting them to agree with something?

Munsell: Yes, exactly. It was a challenging project, but in order to continue to build on the open standards that were going to provide the full level of functionality needed to do transactions across different applications and in the business-to-business arena, we thought that was a critical move, so we worked with Microsoft to bring those standards to market, and of course, to drive productivity tools and features to make a services-oriented architecture really accessible and useful for customers

WSDJ: In the industry right now, Web services is probably the single most important thing happening - everyone is busy working on something right now. From your point of view - and Microsoft is notorious for disagreeing just for the sake of disagreeing - why do you think you got them to agree?

Munsell: I don't think that they really had that much of a choice, because no matter what they would like, customers have multiple operating systems and platforms, and the picture gets even more complex when you look at what needs to happen in order to get integration across businesses to work. In order to show some progress at solving these types of customer problems, they had to make a step in that direction.

WSDJ: Anything new or remarkable due in 2003?

Spang: Can I give you an idea about what's coming? Everything will be focused on rapid application development and the productivity that comes with it. Particularly around a service-oriented architecture in which you are composing and choreographing services within a network without understanding or caring about the technology the provider has used to implement the service. Second, there are going to be hundreds and hundreds of specialized plug-ins from a variety of different partners out in the marketplace as well as from all the different IBM middleware and software products. They are going to add value and enable customization and personalization of the single, open development environment. Third, we are not going to support just WebSphere, but also platforms such as WebLogic with customized plug-ins.

WSDJ: Can you say that again? You're going to support WebLogic?

Spang: Right. WebSphere Studio will support development, testing, and deployment of WebLogic applications.

WSDJ: So WebLogic is going to have its own design tool set now?

Spang: It is. Well, not its "own" - we are sharing WebSphere's. We are all for the support, unification, and simplification of the customer IT environment so that they can go to a single development environment and deploy to multiple deployment environments. WebSphere Studio's integrated support for developing COBOL for CICS or RPG for iSeries applications are other good examples.

WSDJ: Does BEA know this yet?

Spang: They do now.

WSDJ: Okay. They know it. Because BEA tool strategies have failed; everyone knows that across the industry.

Munsell: It's because we listen to our customers. We have customers who have heterogeneous environments. They need development tools to work across multiple products. Java and Web services help with application portability, but everyone knows the vendors need to do some extra work to really make inter-operability and migration - if that is what the customer wants - cost-effective. Another example is the proposed Rational acquisition. Rational supports .NET, and we are not going to discontinue that. In fact, the capability helps us meet our goal of being the best platform for integrating and running a mixed .NET and Java environment.

Spang: The bottom line is that we have customers who don't want to have to have different development environments for the WebLogic Servers they still have versus WebSphere.

WSDJ: That's going to raise a lot of eyebrows when people read this. Who is going to be the person who will talk about how your design tools work with WebLogic?

Spang: It will fall to me and Stefan - our teams and the extended organization.

Hebner: There are many customers out there that have WebLogic in the mix. The WebSphere Studio product is famous for its superior productivity for building to the WebSphere servers due to its tightly integrated development and deployment capabilities. Now, with similar support for WebLogic, Studio will probably become the most productive development environment for WebLogic out and will allow WebLogic customers to leverage hundreds of Eclipse plug-ins, which they cannot do today. Also, this is going to provide a single development environment for customers who have mixed app server environments and will provide WebLogic customers a solid migration tool to move away from WebLogic. We anticipate that a great many will do so.

WSDJ: Tell me about the Grid net initiative for Application Server.

Anthony: Grid is a very nice play. About a year ago, the grid infrastructure community adopted Web services as their methodology for intercommunication. As a result, WebSphere will be grid enabled, and the Globus Toolkit 3.0 that is coming out has a reference implementation based on WebSphere. IBM is fully supportive of what they are doing and is an active contributor to the grid community efforts. IBM recently announced the availability of a number of grid solutions that contain WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere Studio, and WebSphere Portal.

We are looking at how we support grid infrastructures; in moving forward, we will continue to add more features into the base products. Right now there are a lot of services that go into some of the total solutions that are provided. We will continue to take more of the grid functionality and build it right into the WebSphere infrastructure.

WSDJ: Do you have any business examples yet for Grid? Have you gotten that far yet?

Anthony: Certainly. In the petroleum industry, for example, they are doing seismic analysis for oil fields. They are taking a lot of raw data, and increasing the accuracy of their modeling efforts to determine which are the best fields to go after, which is critical in making oil and gas exploration investments. They are leveraging grid infrastructures to do that. Grid is also being used in the pharmaceutical and finance industries, life sciences, governments, and the industrial sector.

WSDJ: Are they using algorithmic information for that?

Anthony: There are a number of fields that are very data intensive or have applications that can be very highly parallelized, so the grid infrastructure can leverage that. We feel going forward that we can make the individual scientist a lot more productive. Today a lot of the grid applications are still pretty much hand-coded. We will be making WebSphere Studio enhancements that will make their lives more productive as they try to leverage these kinds of infrastructures.

Spang: There's an important aspect of the Web services initiative that explains why this team has come together and why we were able to accomplish what we were able to accomplish in the past few years.

Amy and I worked the Web services launch together as part of that team, and Stefan, Scott, and I go back together to the early days of Java and creating the "eBusiness" name and the whole Internet launch point. This team collectively has a lot of history around open standards and IBM's Internet play evolving into "eBusiness" - that's what we were able to bring to this team.

WSDJ: Scott, from your point of view, what are the three biggest things that have happened over the past couple of years?

Hebner: We have fundamentally transformed the Application Server and Studio development environment into a next-generation platform optimized for the dynamics of an on-demand application infrastructure. We became obsessive about understanding how customers use and purchase these products, and their ROI goals. This resulted in deeper insight to anticipate new requirements and usage occasions such as autonomics, Web services-oriented applications, business integration, server consolidation, and the requirements of creating approachable "on-ramps" to e-business. These insights drove the new features and configurations that are now available in v5, especially WAS Enterprise.

The second thing we were able to do was to greatly simplify the portfolio. From the product perspective, we took a variety of fragmented products and drove them into fundamentally two products that now have flexible configurations. We also simplified the naming, the pricing, and how we sell and partner with these products. I think the overall simplification of the portfolio helped to drive some of the success. Third, we were able to drive the value proposition within the context of a broader platform and the role that the application server and the tools played in the broader IBM infrastructure, including business integration, Portal, and commerce. Those were the three key things, I think, as I look back, that helped transport the products to where they are today, into a next-gen-optimized portfolio.

Next Month
In Part 2 of this interview the WebSphere marketing team discusses the importance of the customer in development and WebSphere's focus on delivering tools for rapid development.

More Stories By Jacques Martin

Jack Martin, editor-in-chief of WebSphere Journal, is cofounder and CEO of Simplex Knowledge Company (publisher of Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance Journal http://www.s-ox.com), an Internet software boutique specializing in WebSphere development. Simplex developed the first remote video transmission system designed specifically for childcare centers, which received worldwide media attention, and the world's first diagnostic quality ultrasound broadcast system. Jack is co-author of Understanding WebSphere, from Prentice Hall.

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