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Interview with Danny Sabbah, VP Development for WebSphere Software Platform

  • January 14, 2003
  • By Arun Gaikwad
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Dr. Sabbah is the vice president, development for IBM's WebSphere software platform.

He manages software development for all application server, messaging and development tools in IBM's portfolio. This is a group that spans over 9 locations world wide with over 4000 software developers across a base of multiple operating system platforms. Prior to that, he was vice president architecture and tools development where he was responsible for the architecture and strategy for IBM's application development tools as well as IBM's overall web application servers and business integration software. He began his career at IBM in 1974 in telecommunications software (VTAM) in Kingston, New York. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Rochester in 1981, specializing in artificial intelligence and computer vision. He returned to the IBM Research Division and was responsible for the artificial intelligence effort, then programming languages, and finally for software technology. Dr. Sabbah has direct experience in both product development and in software research.

Arun: Danny, welcome to Developer.com. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, give us some information on current developments at IBM, and answer a few questions.
Danny:    I'm happy to be here.
Arun: How would you define WebSphere's mission?
Danny: WebSphere has emerged from a pure Web application server to becoming a full-service software platform for e-business on demand. Our goal is to help customers integrate mission-critical applications and business processes in a highly cost-effective and efficient way. Furthermore, we do a lot of work driving open standards throughout the industry.
Arun: How does WebSphere fit within the IBM big picture? What role does it play?
Danny: WebSphere is IBM's software operating platform for e-business on demand, tightly integrating with DB2, Tivoli and Lotus. With new computing models such as grid computing and Web services, the Internet has become a distributed operating system, and classic views of operating systems will become less interesting and more of a commodity.

WebSphere runs on all major IBM and non-IBM platforms and implements all major IT industry open standards associated with on-demand computing. As such, WebSphere supports all services at the application level and is agnostic in terms of operating systems and hardware platforms. WebSphere is quickly becoming the kernel for IBM's OGSA grid implementations and for the unifying APIs for services through which application developers build solutions for IBM platforms.
Arun: Have your expectations of WebSphere been fulfilled to date?
Danny: Absolutely. With more than 35 percent market share, IBM is the market leader in the category of application, integration and portal middleware as defined by Gartner. WebSphere has enjoyed 14 consecutive quarters of double-digit growth, even in the face of today's economy. We have nearly two million registered WebSphere developers and that number is constantly increasing. There have been nearly three million downloads of the open-source Eclipse framework, which IBM was instrumental in creating. We are quite happy with the momentum around open standards - especially on Linux.
Arun: Looking into your crystal ball, where do you see this technology two years from now?
Danny: We see a new evolution of IT technology. WebSphere software will lead and support this change for IBM and will become the base programming model and platform for a service-oriented architecture. This will unify simple services that might recursively be composed of other services -- running heterogeneously on different platforms inside or outside of any given enterprise boundary. This kind of generalized Web services and grid computing platform will form a new programming model based on WebSphere as the runtime and development platform. Beyond IBM's contributions to the definition of more than 80 percent of the Application Programming Interface (API) specifications in the J2EE platform, IBM demonstrates its continued commitment with numerous Java Community Process chairpersonships for activities such as JSR 104 (XML Trust Services APIs), JSR 105 (XML Digital Signature APIs), JSR 106 (Digital Encryption APIs), JSR 109 (Implementing Enterprise Web Services), JSR 110 (Java APIs for WSDL), JSR 115 J2EE Authorization Contract for Containers, JSR 183 Web Services Message Security APIs, and JSR 168 (Java Portal APIs). Of the approximately110 active JSRs, IBM is leading or co-leading 22 and participating in 41.

We've also made significant contributions in all parts of WebSphere to open source and standards efforts in portal, workflow and, in the tools area, to Eclipse.org. We'll continue our focus and leadership to drive, support and implement open standards to fulfill the promise of integration and Web services.
Arun: Is there anything in particular going on today or in the near future that really excites you?
Danny: What currently excites me most is the change in computing as we know it. We understand that the corporate IT infrastructure is an evolving organism; no corporation can afford a rip-and-replace strategy, no single software company can solve all problems in business computing. This forces companies and suppliers to change the way they think and do business. The most interesting part is that companies that wouldn't work together before now come together to discuss and create standards, especially as it becomes more and more apparent that integration is the most critical task at hand. Companies can no longer risk getting isolated in their own proprietary technologies.

IBM works to ensure that our customers can integrate their existing IT assets. Previous generations of solutions don't just disappear; they must be integrated as part of the overall corporate IT framework. In addition, we're working on industry standard solutions to become more pervasive and less expensive for our customers to implement and maintain over their full life cycle. This is truly where open and standard computing meshes with the economics realities in the enterprise.
Arun: Today WebLogic and WebSphere are two leading application servers. What percentage of App Server market share does WebSphere have?
Danny: Well, Giga's numbers for application server market share in 2001 show IBM WebSphere and BEA Weblogic in a tie for number one market share. Given our performance this year -- double-digit gains in market share, versus declining license revenue for BEA -- we already have demonstrated that we are the clear market leader. Remember that's only a piece of the story, however. If you talk about the entire platform, with portal and business integration software, WebSphere has become market leader in less than two years, dominating with a 35.8% market share according to Gartner, a lead of more than 20 percentage points ahead of our nearest competitor.
Arun: Could you summarize the strong points of WebSphere over other vendors, such as Microsoft and BEA?
Danny: WebSphere runs on a much broader base of platforms, which gives our customers the flexibility to implement the platform depending on their unique requirements for performance, scalability and reliability. While Microsoft is still tied to its Windows operating system, WebSphere is fully cross-platform and open standard- compliant. WebSphere is a much broader platform than BEA's, since we offer a full platform that includes application server and tools plus a wide range of technologies to support portals, commerce, mobile devices and voice access. Unlike BEA, IBM also has business integration software that includes market-leading messaging, transactional support and adapters.
Arun: IBM's WebSphere Studio is one of the most popular IDEs. But is it true that Java code developed using VisualAge (the product used before WebSphere Studio was introduced) is not portable? Especially J2EE code?
Danny: WebSphere Studio, like VisualAge before it, creates fully J2EE compliant code that can run on any J2EE compliant server, including WebSphere application server. These IDE's allow you to exploit the advanced features of WebSphere that go well beyond the J2EE standard. Obviously, if you create an application that uses WebSphere's advanced features, the application will not run on an application server that does not have these features. WebSphere Studio J2EE tooling clearly labels WebSphere-specific extensions in the tools, and also allows users concerned with portability to disable those features via a preference setting.
Arun: IBM's WebSphere Studio is a very productive IDE, is there any exciting activity in this area?
Danny: Ultimately developers should spend the bulk of their time providing business solutions, rather than learning how use development tools. A key part of our strategy is to provide developers with the best tools for open systems development. Our tools are a complete platform for development that is accessible to the widest possible developer community, that dramatically increase productivity while remaining simple to use and understand.
Arun: Is it true that WebSphere supports VoiceXML?
Danny: We recently announced a new member of the WebSphere family, WebSphere Voice Access for applications. It provides direct voice access to native VoiceXML application running on WebSphere application or to voice-enabled portlets as part of WebSphere portal. Long before that, WebSphere Voice Server supported Voice XML applications.

Currently we are working on technologies to integrate new standards that will support seamless multi-modal access to WebSphere. To give you an example, you'll be able to work your emails online with your PDA and just press a button on the PDA to transfer to your mobile phone when you get into your car. Then you can continue with voice access to the same application on the portal that you're working with. The application will keep your session status alive and continue with the transaction in a different mode and a different device without having to set up the transactions again.
Arun: What kind of tools do you provide for J2ME (Mobile) application development?
Danny: J2ME is part of the WebSphere Studio family and supported through an Eclipse plug-in to Studio as any other Java technology.
Arun: What is IBM's flagship product for portal development? Does it come with WebSphere?
Danny: WebSphere Portal is based on the WebSphere application server and includes our WebSphere Studio and portal toolkits. The portal toolkit enables customers to customize and manage the enterprise portal and create, test, debug and deploy individual portlets and Web content.

According to a recent Gartner study, WebSphere's portal became the market leader in only 18 months, and we've had six major releases during that time.
Arun: What is WebSphere's offering and strategy for Web Services development?
Danny: WebSphere Version 5, which is available today, supports SOAP 2.3, WSIF, UDDI V2 Registry, a Web services Gateway and JSP 109/101 and Web services Security Technology previews in the runtime and in WSAD. In WebSphere portal we support JSP 168 (Open Portlet API) and WSRP; in WMQ and WBI we support Web services connectors and toolkits already today and will support BPEL4WS, WS-Sec, WSIL, WS transactions, etc. as soon as the standards are established and stable.

WebSphere will continue to be developed in the direction of a service-oriented platform -- with the ultimate goal to make Web services the common programming model in the industry.
Arun: Is it true that Total cost of Ownership of WebSphere is very high compared to other App Servers? Please explain.
Danny: We have to look at this in the broader context. When comparing the license and support cost at equal capacity, we are less expensive than BEA, and tests show that WebSphere performs about 1.5 times better than BEA and about 5 to 7 times better than Microsoft's IIS on mixed workload. This leads to less hardware and infrastructure cost per license and less licenses overall to achieve the same capacity.

Our tooling provides much better integration for server-side programming than our competitors, and that leads to higher productivity for corporate developers and less investment for customers. Post-deployment support is difficult to compare directly. Given the state-of-the-art management tools we already had in WebSphere 4 and the major improvements made to them in WebSphere 5, we certainly have competitive management capabilities to keep cost low.

Total cost of ownership also depends on how long the product is being operated before you have to replace or update it. We have very smart people on our team, with years of experience building server-based software, who see limitations today and develop with an eye in the future. Not all our competitors can say that, as you can see from the number of updates and security patches that are continuously needed in some installations we see in the field.
Arun: Are there any other developments occurring at IBM that you would like to mention?
Danny: In 2003 we intend to explicitly use Web services on top of WebSphere to enable a service-oriented architecture. In order to achieve the integration goals and component capabilities, we are creating and implementing a common and open programming model.

This programming model, based on the J2EE and Web services, enables the creation of services and the orchestration of services into solutions that can be implemented in a loosely coupled fashion. Adherence to standards is a key requirement of this architecture in order to reduce the complexity of the environment. The realization of the services can be in a variety of forms, such as Java beans, mediators, process flows, legacy applications, and Web services.

The orchestration of these services is accomplished via the creation of a service integration bus providing the interconnection abstraction for connectivity and invocation of the services. Multiple transport and invocation methods are supported, the most efficient being used for a particular service type. The service-oriented architecture provides a common, implementation-independent view of application functionality and a separation of the solution development process and implementation specifics to allow for rapid business process assembly.

IBM implements these standards on our transaction processing and message- oriented middleware products. However, we clearly understand that today's standards cannot enable all the application design patterns that are required by today's flexible enterprise architecture. IBM continues to add extensions to the programming model that provide additional application enablers needed to achieve the goals of service-oriented architecture. A group of key software architects across IBM's Software Group ensures that products (both run-time and tools) comply with the common programming model and review and approve extensions to the programming model. Many of these extensions are then submitted to the industry bodies governing the specifications that will become part of future standard releases.

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