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IBM revamps e-business software

The company has spruced up its offerings for high-traffic Web sites with the release of new high-end application-server software.

IBM is giving its e-business software a makeover.

The company on Wednesday spruced up its software aimed at high-traffic Web sites with the release of new high-end application-server software, technology that allows businesses to handle e-commerce and other Web site transactions.

WebSphere Enterprise Edition 4.0 offers a set of add-on features that can be added to the company's standard application server, called Advanced Edition. The previously released Advanced Edition is IBM's core application server product and supports Java 2 Enterprise Edition, the Java standard for writing business software.

The company also announced two add-on tools that speed the delivery of Web content and analyze customers' Web-surfing and buying habits.

IBM competes against Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, BEA Systems and others in the lucrative market for e-business software. In the $2.2 billion market for Java application-server software in 2000, IBM ranked second with 15 percent of the market, behind BEA with 18 percent, according to analyst firm IDC. Sun and Oracle placed third and fourth, with about 8 percent each.

With Wednesday's release, IBM has rebuilt its application-server family, so that customers using IBM's low-end WebSphere application server can snap on more powerful add-on modules as their needs grow, said IDC analyst Michelle Rosen.

Previously, IBM sold different versions of WebSphere, from low-end to high-end, that were built using slightly different code. That made it harder for businesses to move to higher-end versions of the software as their needs grew. Now every version of the application server is built using the same software code.

"This completes the reorganization of their product line," Rosen said. "Things had gotten pretty unwieldy, and customers had said it was complex to understand how one application server related to another. Now they're bringing it all in line to a single version."

Scott Hebner, IBM's marketing director for WebSphere software, likens IBM's new strategy to a consumer buying a home-entertainment center all at once or assembling it piecemeal, acquiring a stereo and speakers first and later adding a television and DVD player.

Reusing code, not rewriting it
Hebner said the new Enterprise Edition offers a tool called Business Rules Beans that will allow businesses to easily tweak their software without having to rewrite software code. It is aimed at software programmers who write using the Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) programming model, which lets developers write applications using reusable pieces of code.

Business Rules Beans allows software developers to change the behavior of EJBs without having to rewrite the code. For example, software for a bank's online Web site could be written to send a certain transaction to a specific department. But if the bank wants to change which department the transaction is sent to, its software programmers can use the new tool to make the switch, rather than having to rewrite the software by hand, Hebner said.

Other new features include the ability to recognize the country from which the customer is logging in, so that the correct currency conversion is used if they buy products, Hebner said. Another new offering is adapters that allow programmers to link their Java software with those written in other languages or programming models, such as C++ and CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture).

"IBM is really beginning to show that these are major components and pretty much fit together, and are getting well-integrated," said analyst Evan Quinn, of the Hurwitz Group.

Next week, IBM will release two add-on products that will sit next to the application server. An updated version of IBM's Edge Server improves reliability of the application server with "load balancing" features, splitting the workload evenly among a cluster of back-end computers. It also speeds the delivery of information with new caching technology, which stores frequently requested content so it can be retrieved more quickly.

A new version of WebSphere Site Analyzer will allow businesses to trace and analyze customer preferences on their Web sites. The new version features better integration with IBM's data-analysis tools, Hebner said.