Websphere Works

IBM commerce software running on Sun Solaris servers: Many assume from the outset that the combination is a kludge—if not a disaster—waiting in the wings.

Sure, Sun Microsystems and IBM are staunch rivals in selling high-powered servers to corporations. Sure, IBM has its own AIX version of the Unix operating system that is not the same as Sun’s Solaris version. Sure, the pair have been less than bosom buddies in the use, development and deployment of the Web-friendly Java programming language.

But that doesn’t have to spell instant meltdown, when you place IBM’s Net software on Sun’s Solaris servers.

IBM has been offering a Solaris version of its WebSphere application server product since October, 1998—just as long as it has been selling IBM AIX and Windows NT versions. And Avon is just one of several Fortune 500 customers using the combination. American Express and Caterpillar also are big WebSphere-on-Solaris shops.

A number of WebSphere-on-Solaris users opted for the combination primarily because they didn’t want to junk their existing Sun servers.

Avon had a number of Solaris machines in its stable before it hatched plans to build a Web-commerce platform. After evaluating competing application servers, Avon decided the ability of Solaris to meet growth was compelling enough to stick with Sun, rather than switch to IBM hardware, even though it had decided on IBM WebSphere middleware.

On either Sun or IBM servers, Websphere provides a foundation for Internet applications to be able to access corporate data to complete transactions or conduct other commerce online. Such middleware applications are written in Java as Enterprise Java Beans.

As with any hardware- software pairing, though, WebSphere-on-Solaris compatibility is no total guarantee. Some comp.lang.-java. advocacy and comp. unix. solaris newsgroup posters have reported during the past year various memory-leak problems when using WebSphere on Solaris.

In this case, the Java virtual machine that allowed Websphere to operate on Solaris wasn’t doing “garbage collection.” That meant it wasn’t cleaning up references to blocks of memory no longer being used by Websphere. Websphere would consume all of the memory on a computer, until it froze or crashed. And memory “leaked” because data that should have been stored, never was.

Such leaks cause stability problems.

For the most part, WebSphere-on-Solaris users, though, maintain they have been generally pleased with the pairing.

Reston, Va.,-based Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest provider of education funding, is using WebSphere on Solaris to run its wiredscholar.com Web site, an online resource and loan-application site aimed at helping high school students, their parents and counselors obtain college funding.

The site, which was designed in large part by IBM Global Services, runs WebSphere 3.02 on Sun servers, which are networked to an IBM S/390 server which hosts the loan-application data.

“We did have some issues … particularly some memory leaks with WebSphere server,” says David Cooper, managing director of e-commerce with Sallie Mae. “It was somewhat harried as we got toward the launch date.”

Home-mortgage vendor Nexstar Financial Group of St. Louis, Mo., also went live with a WebSphere-on-Solaris site last summer. According to Thomas Richardson, vice president of technology, “Not once have we had to go to IBM and say we have a bug; not in the 14 months we’ve been live.”


WebSphere on Solaris

  • Memory leaks: The No. 1 problem reported by customers over past several years. The software has at times failed to clean up after itself. Available memory gets used up. New data can’t be stored. Systems freeze or crash.

  • J2EE wars: Until recently, IBM and Sun were at war over the licensing of Java 2 Enterprise Edition. Until WebSphere 4.0, IBM went its own way with J2EE support, which meant development and support headaches for those building applications on more than one brand of application server (IBM, BEA, Sun).

    SOURCE: Baseline research