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Third Time Proves To Be the Charm for IBM's WebSphere
March 6, 2000
By Richard Hoffman
Last year we tested eight Web application servers, including IBM's WebSphere (see "In the Middle: Enterprise-Ready Web App Servers," at www.networkcomputing.com/1011/1011r1.html). And though we thought it showed a lot of promise, WebSphere 2.0 suffered from immaturity and was clearly in catch-up mode compared with its enterprise-level colleagues, including Apple Computer's WebObjects and Bluestone Software's Sapphire/Web. More recently, we ran five Java application servers head-to-head (see "Spilling the Beans on Java Application Servers" at www.networkcomputing.com/1022/1022f2.html) and wanted to include WebSphere in our tests, but the 3.0 version wasn't ready. So when we got our hands on WebSphere Application Server 3.0 Advanced Edition, along with the WebSphere Studio 3.0 development product, we were anxious to see how much the product had matured. The answer is: WebSphere 3.0 is a very solid, comprehensive solution and offers an impressive jump in functionality, integration and overall architecture compared with its prior release. IBM finally can back up its cool ad campaign with a full-featured e-business-ready solution.
We looked at the main components of WebSphere on a Dell Optiplex GX1 with a 400-MHz Pentium II processor, 256 MB of RAM and a 2-GB drive, running Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 5. Installation was reasonably straightforward but could not be considered a "one-touch install." If you install the complete bundle of WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere Studio, VisualAge for Java 3.0 Professional, Site Analyzer, SecureWay LDAP store, IBM HTTP Server, DB2 database, Applet Designer, Distributed Debugger and NetObjects ScriptBuilder, you'll spend a lot of time in the installation and configuration process (not to mention use nearly 1 GB of disk space). This package could use a more coherent and unified installation and configuration pro-cess, but this is a problem shared with most application servers.
Although the WebSphere Application Server is cross-platform, the WebSphere Studio runs only under Microsoft Windows 95/98/NT. The application server runs under IBM AIX, Sun Solaris and Windows NT, and is shipped with and runs on Novell NetWare 5. But this is not yet as complete a list as the platforms supported by version 2 (which also supports AS/400, OS/390 and others). Linux support, too, is presently stuck at version 2, but a Linux release of version 3 is in the works. WebSphere 3.0 is still bundled with an SSL-enabled version of Apache (IBM HTTP Server), but also works with Apache 1.3.6, Domino version 5, Lotus Domino Go 126.96.36.199 or higher, Internet Explorer 4.0 and Netscape Enterprise Server version 3.51 or 3.6. Database support is still limited, with the options being IBM DB2 or Oracle 8.0.5. Upon installation, we had trouble getting the administrator's console to start, but this seemed to be related to our desire to use version 1.2 of the JDK (Java Development Kit) instead of the included 1.1.7B version. Once we installed and used the earlier version, everything worked smoothly.
Some Strong Java
WebSphere occasionally shows its legacy as a command-line-based product. For instance, true distributed transactions are only supported if you set up the administrative server to use log files--an action that does not happen by default. Accomplishing this is simple enough: You add a
-logfile flag to the adminserver script file, and specify the log file name and size. It would be trivial to add this functionality to the Java GUI, and ease of management is becoming one of the key differentiators between competing Web application servers. There are some places where various administrative functions in WebSphere involve editing one or more configuration files, but in general WebSphere 3.0 has moved effectively to address ease of management. The WebSphere Studio is a strong and useful tool for centralized deployment, management and monitoring of complex, distributed Web applications.
The price for WebSphere is attractive as well. The Advanced Edition debuts at $7,500 per CPU, which puts it at the low end of comparative products, and the Standard Edition (suitable for small, nondistributed applications) is only $750. WebSphere Studio 3.0 costs $495 per seat, which is extremely competitive.
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