IBM add-on 'turbocharges' WebSphere app server

IBM has started beta testing a software add-on for its WebSphere application server that will help companies with large and complex computing environments improve the uptime and performance of important applications, IBM said Thursday.

Called WebSphere Extended Deployment, or XD, the software is designed for customers with complex environments involving multiple application servers, and who have critical applications that see unexpected surges in demand, such as financial services companies and online retailers and auctions, IBM said.

WebSphere XD went into beta testing Thursday at 10 IBM customer sites and is scheduled for general availability in the fourth quarter, said Bob Sutor, director of WebSphere software at IBM. The first versions will be for Linux, Windows, AIX and Solaris, with other platforms to follow, he said. Pricing will be announced when the product is released.

The software will monitor the performance and efficiency of systems and rebalance or farm out heavy workloads to servers and software that has spare capacity. Network managers can choose to manually approve any changes or have them take place automatically, Sutor said.

The software can also partition large jobs over multiple processors, databases and application servers to provide the best level of performance, and can prioritize a workload based on the relative importance of an application to a business process, he said.

"This is for our most demanding WebSphere customers. The way I think of it is as an add-on pack that turbocharges WebSphere," he said.

If the servers in a designated cluster are insufficient for the workload at hand, the software can also be used in conjunction with IBM's Tivoli Intelligent Orchestrator to provision other servers outside of the cluster and assign work to those servers, he said.

Cigna Healthcare worked with IBM engineers on a proof-of-concept system using a test version of WebSphere Extended Deployment. It hopes to link together 37 applications that comprise its Cigna.com Web site and reduce the amount of hardware it needs to run them during peak times such as enrollment periods, IBM said.

The software rounds out IBM's application server offerings for the high end and builds on its "autonomic" initiative to provide systems that anticipate performance bottlenecks and other problems and heal them automatically, said Shawn Willett, a principal analyst with Current Analysis.

"There are some interesting things here around 'virtual clusters,' where applications don't have to be tied to a physical cluster but just a virtual cluster, whereby hardware can be switched around or added," he said.

Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and some other vendors are also working towards such self-healing products.

WebSphere XD might not solve all of a customer's performance issues, since problems could also arise in a router, a network device or some other part of the infrastructure. But the offering represents a "solid incremental improvement," Willett said.

IBM's Tivoli management products are designed to address those issues elsewhere in a network, Sutor said.

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