IBM announced on Wednesday that Websphere 6, the latest version of its application server, will be available in December 2004. It claims that the version has improved availability and ease of deployment, and includes support for various Java and Web Services standards.
Robert Sutor, director of Websphere Foundation Software at IBM, told ZDNet UK that when a server fails on a network of a Websphere 6 servers applications should only be down for a few seconds, compared with the current five or six minutes it takes to get the server running again at present..
The server transfers applications and the transactions they process from the failed server to another server in seconds, unlike in Websphere 5 which requires the failed server to re-boot before the applications can resume.
"Bad things happen," said Sutor. "It doesn't have to be a software problem. It can be a power problem, or a someone-tripping-over-the-cable problem, or a network problem."
Sutor pointed out that even a few minutes of server down time can be costly. He said that in the retail brokerage industry it's estimated that every minute an application is down costs the company almost $110,000.
Websphere 6 includes various features which claim to speed up development and deployment.
One of these features is JavaServer Faces, a technology which simplifies the connection of user interface components to data sources, as well as the connection of client-generated events to server-side event handlers. Sutor said this technology offers the simplicity of Windows-like tools for Visual Basic (VB) to distributed Web applications.
"Someone described JavaServer Faces as VB for the wWb on drugs -- as it is supercharged, and active, and able to connect to lots of things," said Sutor.
The next version of Websphere contains support for various Java and Web Services standards, including the Web services specification, WS-I Basic Profile 1.1; the Java Enterprise standard, J2EE 1.4; as well as the Java API for building Web services and clients using remote procedure calls (RPC) and XML, JAX-RPC.
Other changes include a new Java Message Service (JMS) engine which has been rewritten and now provides up to five-fold better performance, according to IBM. The company claims that Websphere 6 is fully compatible with versions 4 and 5, and that this will enable customers to incrementally upgrade to this version.
Thomas Murphy, a vice president at the META Group said that IBM is in a strong position in the application server space, and that its product had started to mature. However, he said IBM may find it difficult persuading customers to migrate to its newest server.
"Lots of organisations don't want to change their application servers as it could create stability issues," said Murphy.
Murphy said the two main challenges that IBM faces in the application server market are Java's rival technology, .NET, as well as competition from the open-source community.
"The application server market has reached stabilisation point," said Murphy "When people look at application servers they are beginning to find that they are all pretty similar. If it comes to price, why not price at zero, by getting an open-source solution?"