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  1. Technology
October 14, 1998


By CBR Staff Writer

IBM Corp has added new functionality to the hypertext transfer protocol (http) services which it packages with its WebSphere product line, and which are based on the open source Apache http server. The new software improves WebSphere’s performance on Windows NT and supports the secure socket layer (SSL). IBM has also ported Apache to its AS/400 operating system, and plans to release the port as open source software. IBM stunned the open source community in June, when it first declared that it would bundle the open source http server from the Apache Project with its WebSphere web application server software (CI No 3,435). At the time, open source developers expressed concerns that big businesses would take more from the community than they gave back to it. The IBM/Apache alliance is a test case for all subsequent partnerships between commercial and free software ventures, and as such it is being closely scrutinized. This latest set of WebSphere announcements has been timed to coincide with ApacheCon, the first Apache developers’ conference being held this week in San Francisco. As a statement of its continued support for the Apache Project, IBM is adding its fast response cache accelerator (FRCA) and SSL to ship as binaries on top of Apache for Windows NT. Such binary-only software is viewed with suspicion by many open source developers – not least Richard Stallman, creator of the Free Software Foundation – but the company claims various legal and intellectual property restrictions prevent it from going the extra mile and releasing the source code to the software as well. We’ll definitely look at releasing what we can, says Big Blue’s Nigel Beck. That’s not to say IBM is avoiding releasing any source at all. The company employs two developers to work on the core of the Apache Project. They are contributing smaller pieces of code on an ongoing basis, and IBM assures developers that the AS400 port will be released under the open source model in its entirety. We are very much aware of the need to give back to the community which has given us so much in terms of its creativity, Beck said. WebSphere was launched to great fanfare in May (CI No 3,404), and represents IBM’s entry into the dynamic and rapidly growing web application server market. This is the same market Netscape Communications Corp and Sun Microsystems Inc have tried to enter through acquisition – Netscape having bought Kiva and Sun, NetDynamics. Beck says IBM considered purchasing the technology it needed to enter this space, but concluded the necessary expertise already existed inside Big Blue. That decision appears to have been borne out by subsequent events. Originally consisting of an Application Server and Performance Pack, WebSphere has since gained tools in the shape of the WebSphere Studio and two new editions, an Advanced Edition which adds Enterprise Java Beans (EJBs) and an Enterprise Editions which includes a component broker. That’s a pretty comprehensive product set. Unfortunately IBM won’t say how many customers it has wooed to WebSphere so far, saying only that press and analysts think the product is great – a bit of a circular argument as replies to press queries go. In addition, it may have occurred to you that IBM already had a perfectly serviceable web application server product line in the shape of Lotus Domino. To what extent is WebSphere merely eating Lotus Domino’s lunch? Beck explains that Domino has a slightly different focus from WebSphere. It remains collaborative and document-centric, though it actually runs on top of the same web application server base that drives WebSphere. WebSphere, however, is now highly tuned for transactional applications. A bank, for example, might run Domino in workgroups and to track complex documents like loan applications, while running WebSphere under its internet banking services. Beck maintains that WebSphere has no competitor for its whole product line, just a collection of point competitors. Those include Allaire’s Cold Fusion at the low end, SilverStream and Microsoft in the low to medium space, WebLogic for middle sized applications, Kiva and NetDynamics at the mid to high end range and BEA for transactional processing. Clearly, from the transaction-intensive point of view, BEA is the one to beat. BEA is very much procedural, designed for high transaction throughput. It’s a product they are bringing to the web space, Beck concedes. WebSphere, by contrast, works from the low to the high end, featuring everything from easy-to-use engines to a component broker IBM believes is significantly ahead of any rival. Of course the acquisition of WebLogic by BEA changes the terrain of the entire market, giving IBM a competitor at more than one level – a competitor it is likely to be more wary of than Beck perhaps is willing to admit.

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