IBM eyes modular WebSphere

The company is rewriting its application server software to improve the integration of components within the rest of its product line.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
3 min read
IBM next year plans to sell a revamped edition of its WebSphere Java server product line that the company says will improve the integration of components within its software portfolio.

Big Blue is creating a "modular architecture" for its WebSphere Java application server, which will allow customers to combine IBM software products more easily with WebSphere. The architecture will debut as part of a product--code-named Vela and expected to be called WebSphere 6--that will be released in the second half of next year, according to an IBM representative. The WebSphere application server is used to run custom-written business applications.

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Creating a more modular software architecture for its entire software line has long been a key goal for IBM's Software Group. The company is adopting Java and Web services standards to serve as the common software foundation and glue to link its products together.

"What we're doing is gradually decomposing our products and recomposing them into more effective solutions," Danny Sabbah, IBM Software's chief technology officer, said in an interview earlier this year. "We're bringing the software group together into a coherent architecture."

IBM has already rewritten some of the products within its WebSphere portfolio of products to adhere to the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) standard and Web services. The company is doing the same for its other software product lines, which include the Lotus line of collaboration software, Tivoli systems management line, DB2 database and Rational development tools. For example, the company has rewritten the Lotus collaborative applications as J2EE components so that they can run within the WebSphere Portal software.

Using Web services to connect its technology will allow customers to combine IBM products in a more flexible manner, rather than having to purchase a broad suite of tightly wound applications, Sabbah said. A modular application server will help companies tackle more complicated tasks because Java applications will be able to handle greater workloads and distribute processing across many nodes on a network, he said.

In one example of the company's strategy of building a common foundation across its software lineup, IBM on Thursday said that it is building Web services security standards into its Tivoli and WebSphere products.

IBM plans to add two standards-based methods for authorizing and authenticating a person's access to its Tivoli Access Manager version 5.1, which will be available later this month. Applications written to run on IBM's WebSphere Java server software can take advantage of the Tivoli security system, the company said.

Tivoli Access Manager will work with Kerberos and the XML (Extensible Markup Language)-based Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML), which are two systems for conveying identity information to network access control software. By adding support for Kerberos and SAML, Tivoli and WebSphere software can share identity and log-on information with other compliant security systems.

This standards-based approach will allow a person to enter network name and password information at one network and be connected to several Web sites or company networks. For example, a car manufacturer distributor could authenticate identity while logging in to its own company network and share that log-on information to get data from the car manufacturer's network.

These sorts of "federated identity" plans, in which a person can log in to a number of Web sites or networks at once, will become more commonplace in 2004, said Bob Sutor, director of WebSphere infrastructure at IBM.

"We need a solution that spans security domains. Two different companies may have two sets of security controls, but it's more likely to be the case that they have completely different technologies," Sutor said.

More security standards are under way to make federated identity management easier to use. IBM, Microsoft and other security companies in July proposed a Web Services specification called WS-Federation. The goal of the proposed standard was to create a common way to build Web services that work with a variety of security systems for logging on to networks.

The proposal drew scorn from the Liberty Alliance--a group backed by Sun Microsystems and other companies--which complained that WS-Federation replicated the work of the Liberty Alliance.

Sutor played down the idea that the two proposed specifications are incompatible. He said he expects that eventually the two methods will coexist and interoperate.