IBM's WebSphere: Dances With Mainframes

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2004-05-14 Print this article Print

IBM's WebSphere Application Server has the most appeal for those who already have a good deal of Blue in their blood.

IBM's WebSphere Application Server has the most appeal for those who already have a good deal of Blue in their blood.

In late 2000, Atlanta-based National Account Service Co. (NASCO), which processes more than 100 million health-benefits claims yearly, was looking for a Web application server to give customers the ability to check their claims online. That data is still hosted on IBM mainframes. So while BEA's WebLogic had better support for Java standards at the time, "WebSphere offered us more features integrated with an IBM environment," says Mark Badia, NASCO's chief technology officer. For example, he says, WebSphere supports mainframe file structures and works well with IBM's MQ message-queuing middleware.

IBM loves to tout WebSphere's ability to run on multiple hardware systems, including mainframes, but the company has had trouble maintaining consistency across them at times. Aurora Health Care, a health-care provider based in Milwaukee, runs WebSphere on AIX and z/OS for mainframes but its developers work on Windows and Linux machines. Frustratingly, WebSphere code developed on one platform behaved differently on another, according to Duane Wesenberg, director of Web applications development at Aurora Health. "We were always having problems when we promoted an application up to the big iron," Wesenberg says. IBM has fixed the problem in recent releases, he says.

WebSphere is also mind-numbingly complicated, some customers say. "If you're not integrating an application to a back-end system, I wouldn't look at WebSphere," says Todd Stewart, director of information technology for Brenntag North America, a subsidiary of a German chemical distributor. "I'm willing to tackle the complexity because of the benefits we get from the platform."

But others argue that WebSphere is no more difficult to get your arms around than BEA's WebLogic. "The level of complexity for either platform is quite close," says Roman Lys, an information-technology manager with Toronto-based Scotiabank, which runs its online banking applications on WebSphere. The most important issue for companies embarking on Java development, he says, is building expertise in-house.

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Ticker: IBM (NYSE)
Employees: 255,157

Steve Mills
Senior VP, Software Group
In charge of Big Blue's $14 billion software business unit, which encompasses 13,000 direct sales and technical support personnel. He joined IBM in 1974 as a sales trainee in New York City.

Bob Sutor
Dir., WebSphere Foundation Software
Responsible for all WebSphere infrastructure software. Spent 15 years in IBM's research division, where he worked on Internet-publishing technology.

More than 100 IBM products carry the WebSphere moniker, but the main software is the WebSphere Application Server, a Web-based transaction engine available for multiple operating systems, including IBM's z/OS and AIX. WebSphere Studio provides an environment for developing, deploying and testing applications that comply with the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) specification.

Reference Checks

Mark Badia
Project: Health-benefits processing company built a Java-based Web application on WebSphere that lets individuals research claims and perform other activities.

Highmark Life & Casualty
Matt Piroch
Project: Pittsburgh insurance company runs custom Java applications on WebSphere for claims processing and underwriting processing, which are tied into an Oracle database.

Brenntag North America
Todd Stewart
Dir., I.T.
(610) 926-6100
Project: Chemical distributor's WebSphere servers provide order processing and product catalogs linked directly to its AS/400 systems.

Roman Lys
Asst. General Mgr., Branch Architecture Development
Project: Toronto-based bank uses WebSphere to provide online access to existing banking applications, which comprise 3 million lines of Cobol on an IBM mainframe.

Aurora Health Care
Duane Wesenberg
Dir., Web Apps Development
Project: Wisconsin health-care provider lets its 24,000 employees access 30 Web applications via WebSphere.

Hewitt Associates
Tim Hilgenberg
Chief Technology Strategist for Applications
Project: Human-resources consulting firm links to mainframe data with WebSphere, serving 5 million Web pages per day.

Executives listed here are all users of IBM's products. Their willingness to talk has been confirmed by Baseline.


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