Update: IBM makes WebSphere its brand for e-business

IBM is extending its WebSphere brand to encompass all of its electronic-business software, the company announced yesterday.

Nine additions or upgrades to the WebSphere product range, covering areas such as personalisation, voice navigation and load balancing, also were announced.

"WebSphere is our brand for the web," said Jocelyne Attal, vice president of marketing, transformation and integration, speaking at a press conference here.

The company is putting serious money into the WebSphere software platform. "This year we will spend US$1 billion, and next year we will increase that by double digits," Attal said. "It's time to replace the dot in dot-com with a dollar sign."

The WebSphere software platform consists of three layers, according to Joe Damassa, IBM vice president of programs and communications. The foundation, consisting of WebSphere Application Server or MQSeries, provides web application serving and integration.

Building on this are a range of foundation extensions, providing support for development, presentation and deployment. The final layer, consisting of application accelerators such as Lotus Domino or MQSeries Workflow, is the interface to the outside world of customer and partner applications.

Most important is what the platform enables, not how it does it, Damassa said. "Customer and partner applications are the stars of the show; the rest are just supporting actors."

Emphasising that WebSphere is based on open standards, Damassa said that IBM is looking for input from partners at all levels, not just in the customer application layer.

"Partners are critical to our success. We are investing millions of dollars to support and enable key partners on WebSphere," he said.

Already, two dozen products have been announced in the WebSphere range, but unlike offerings from other vendors, Damassa said, "the difference is integration. It's not a loose collection of recently acquired products with no integration. We are not talking bundles."

With few exceptions, the products will be available initially in what IBM refers to as the 13 "Group One languages", including English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese (both simplified and traditional), Japanese and Korean.

The foundation layer is an upgrade to WebSphere Application Server, now at Version 3.5. The upgrade adds support for HP-UX and Windows 2000, in addition to Windows NT and IBM's AIX. The new version will also improve integration with Lotus Domino and VisualAge for Java, the company said. Three editions of the product, priced at $US795, $US7500 per processor and $US35,000 per processor, will be released on August 31.

The other eight products fall into the class of foundation extensions: new products and upgrades for development (WebSphere Studio, VisualAge for Java and VisualAge Generator), deployment (WebSphere Edge Server, WebSphere Site Analyzer and WebSphere Host Publisher) and presentation (WebSphere Personalization and WebSphere Portal Server).

Version 3.5 of WebSphere Studio, for creating dynamic web applications, will be released on August 31 and will be priced from $US299 to $US1199. The upgrade will run on Windows 2000 (in addition to Windows 95 and 98) and add support for handheld, wireless and voice devices through support for Compact HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), WML (Wireless Markup Language) and VXML (Voice Extensible Markup Language).

WebSphere Edge Server, a new product, will be available from the end of June, according to Jeffrey R. Henry, program director for WebSphere solutions marketing. It will provide wide-area load balancing and content-based quality-of-service routing. The company plans to evolve the product to incorporate application processing capabilities, which enhances performance by placing the application closer to the end user.

An upgrade to WebSphere Site Analyzer, also due on August 31 and priced at $US10,000 per processor, will add support for e-commerce shopping card analysis in conjunction with WebSphere Commerce Suite.

Access to aging 3270 and 5250 applications will be provided by WebSphere Host Publisher starting from August 31, when the company adds an HTML entry-level emulator to the package. Available on AIX, OS/400, OS/390, Windows NT and Solaris, pricing on most platforms will be $US15,000 for the server and 50 concurrent session licences.

With the new WebSphere Personalisation module, Damassa said, "Businesses can attract and retain visitors and increase sales by providing a personalised web experience that makes things easier to find." IBM said it will sell the module as an add-on to WebSphere Application Server from July 31, but declined to announce details of pricing or platform support for this module until the launch date.

Another addition to the range, WebSphere Portal Server, will provide support for syndicated content such as weather channels or news feeds and will use IBM's Enterprise Information Portal to connect to structured and unstructured data sources. The module will be available in the fourth quarter of this year, Henry said. Platform support and price information will be available nearer the launch date, he said.

After the press conference, Damassa's colleagues said there was a 10th new product, intended for web content management. According to Henry, while no release date or name has been set for it, coding has begun, and the product will be released to a limited market as a beta version before the end of the year.

Plans for the product include integration with IBM Enterprise Information Portal, IBM Content Manager, Lotus Domino and other data stores to enable customers to link their web and non-web operations and to reuse content.

These new products will build on other recently announced modules to target the needs of the mobile internet market -- a market in which Europe leads the world, and a class of products which IBM calls "pervasive computing", Damassa said.

"Balancing a laptop, a mobile phone and a PDA (personal digital assistant) while trying to drive a car is suicidal," Damassa said, adding that, often, the natural mode of communication is by voice. The recently announced WebSphere Voice Server will "allow the development of conversational voice applications over the web", Damassa said.

Meanwhile, for mobile internet users not at the wheel of a car, the Transcoding Publisher module will take information and automatically customise it for delivery to the small screens of a range of portable devices, he said.

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