IBM WebSphere Finally Supports Mainframe

It’s little surprise that a key ingredient of IBM WebSphere’s success has been its support of existing IBM technologies—especially DB2 databases, plus the availability of bodies from IBM Global Services which has built an e-business practice around WebSphere. If you’re a confirmed IBM shop, WebSphere has long been your logical choice for web-enabling legacy applications.

But until now, running WebSphere on the mainframe was essentially like running a port of an open systems tool in a legacy environment. WebSphere 4.0 for z/OS and OS/390, released this week, adds native support for core mainframe services such as CICS, the transaction monitor that IBM claims runs 40 billion transactions every day. Specifically, WebSphere 4.0 allows Java application developers to plug into these transaction services without having to write custom code. WebSphere 4.0 does the same thing with other established mainframe building blocks such as Parallel Sysplex; IBM’s RACF security and access control programs; and WLM, IBM’s workload manager used for load balancing.

Version 4.0 is also the first release of WebSphere that is officially J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition)-compliant. Not only that, but it’s the “deepest and broadest” implementation of J2EE, claimed Scott Hebner, middleware marketing director for IBM Software. He said that IBM passed more J2EE compliance tests than any other appserver vendor, including all the mandatory tests and 70% of the optional ones run by Sun. For instance, IBM claims that its implementation of JMS (Java Messaging Service, one of the J2EE standards) is more mature than BEA’s, its primary rival in the appserver space. For instance, IBM claims that BEA WebLogic lacks the ability to import transactions originating as MQSeries messages (IBM’s market-leading messaging middleware). BEA was not available for comment at press time.

To place matters into perspective, IBM’s J2EE fervor is rather recent. They admit to being slower in becoming J2EE-compliant than the other Java appserver rivals. “We took a balanced approach to supporting standards since we originally did not believe that J2EE was the only [important] platform,” said Hebner. He claimed that other standards, such as XML-based UDDI and SOAP, were equally important (see adjacent story). Hebner added that WebSphere supported all the J2EE essentials anyway. “We supported EJB 1.1 ‘minus’,” he said. For instance, while IBM supported essential EJB features such as session beans, until now it didn’t support peripheral ones such as XML descriptors. “Our clients weren’t using them [XML descriptors] anyway,” he maintained.

The WebSphere 4.0 announcements were accompanied by an important upgrade to Visual Age, IBM’s umbrella IDE (integrated development environment) used for developing many of the applications that run on WebSphere. For the first time, IBM is finally offering Visual Age as a suite, bundling all languages including C, C++, COBOL, and Java into the same package. In so doing, IBM is following the lead of other tools vendors, such as Microsoft, Rational, Sybase—and just recently, CA.

CA Throws Hat in Development Suites

Application life cycle tools were an afterthought of Computer Associates’ 1999 Platinum acquisition. Ironically, thanks to its acquisitions of Platinum technologies, Sterling Software, and Nantucket (the latter, over a decade ago), CA has accumulated one of the largest application development product portfolios in the business.

Not that anybody noticed—CA included. With the sole exception of Nantucket, none of these acquisitions were driven by application development tools. Platinum was bought for its DB2 tools, while Sterling was acquired for its storage management offerings, both of which neatly complemented CA’s data center products.

This week, CA raised the profile of its application development business with the release of ERwin Modeling Suite 4.0. Don’t let the version number of the product name fool you, this is actually CA’s first attempt to bundle development tools. It’s just that ERwin and Paradigm Plus, the product families included in the suite, both happen to be on their 4.0 release cycles, according to application life cycle brand manager Gregory Clancy. The result is CA’s first serious challenge to market leader Rational.

ERwin modeling suite contains four products, headlined by the ERwin data modeler, the market leader for database designers; plus BPwin, a business process modeler; Paradigm Plus, a UML modeling tool; and the almost brand-new ERwin Examiner, a tool which checks data models for inconsistencies. The products are also sold separately.

Each of these products has significant enhancements. ERwin sports new capabilities for separating logical and physical models. The logical model organizes data into entities, such as “customer” or “product order,” while the physical model maps them into the table and column data structures of relational databases. By separating logical from physical, data models can be spun off for multiple databases, a feature that is useful if an organization has different databases (e.g., Oracle and DB2) and wants to ensure that overlapping data uses the same data structures. Additionally, ERwin has added new model viewing capabilities that provide hierarchical views of data models, a feature that makes it easier to work with larger models.

Other product enhancements include Paradigm Plus’ support of UML 1.3 (the latest version of the object modeling language), XML-based round-trip engineering, and the ability to extend the tool using well-known VBScript or JavaScript. Meanwhile BPwin has added organization chart views and the ability to import bit map graphics—but does not support direct import of Microsoft Visio charts, which many organizations use for illustrating process flows.

So how do these tools integrate? CA is relying on XML to provide an open interface, and for translating data models into UML models, wizards are provided. This differs from Rational’s proprietary hooks, although Rational’s integration is far more ambitious, spanning object modeling, data modeling, testing, requirements management, and configuration management. However, if CA could broaden the XML integration to other tools inherited from the Platinum stable, such as CCC Harvest, it could claim a useful competitive advantage.

ERwin Modeling Suite 4.0 is an important first step for CA to demonstrate that rumors of the attrition of its inherited tools businesses are greatly exaggerated. CA has headroom for product growth, if it follows up by extending the suite to other tools inherited from the Platinum stable, including configuration management.

Clancy conceded that, in the aftermath of the Platinum acquisition, it was often difficult to get the world’s attention on the company’s development products offerings. With the exception of ERwin, none of these products were market leaders. But Clancy adds, these products have “grown significantly” under CA’s watch, noting that channel sales for modeling tools alone grew 344% over the past 16 months (he did not have figures for sales growth via direct or telesales)..

Obviously, integrating data modeling and object/component modeling has long been a holy grail of application development—but does the idea make sense in practice? Database architects and component designers are each jealous of their domains. In most cases, the database predates the application. “Just ignore the other side, data is king,” is a common refrain, according to one industry consultant who has worked both sides of the modeling fence.

The application life cycle market remains fragmented, with market leader Rational, Compuware, Merant, and Computer Associates each offering varying arrays of development and modeling tools. No single vendor offers a complete solution, and until now, only Rational has offered out-of-the-box integration.

The significance of ERwin 4.0 is that CA is finally demonstrating that it is serious in pursuing the development tools business, and that Rational finally has some competition in the suites sector.