UPDATE - IBM announces support for Web services

IBM has announced support of open Internet standards for all its major software products as well as new software tools to help...

IBM has announced support of open Internet standards for all its major software products as well as new software tools to help users connect applications via the Web, creating so-called Web services.

Products supporting open standards include IBM's WebSphere Application Server and DB2 database, Tivoli Systems' management tools, and the groupware products made by Lotus Development, also part of IBM.

The new software tools are designed to enable businesses to create, publish, securely deploy, host and manage Web services, IBM said in a statement.

Supporting open standards, such as universal description discovery and integration (UDDI), simple object access protocol (Soap), Java2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), Web services description language (WSDL), and extensible markup language (XML), eliminates the expensive custom coding currently required to connect enterprise applications.

IBM is, with its support for Web services, entering a field that already has several players, including Microsoft with .Net and Sun Microsystems with its Sun Open Net Environment (Sun ONE).

Among the slew of product announcements this week is WebSphere Application Server Version 4, which through the open standards will connect with business applications from various vendors, including SAP and PeopleSoft, IBM said. Version 4, available on 30 June, can also interface with a public UDDI directory, IBM said. An example of a UDDI directory is the yellow pages-style business-to-business directory launched by Ariba, Microsoft and IBM on 2 May.

Tim Hilgenberg, Hewitt Associates chief technology strategist, said his company chose IBM as its primary e-business software provider partly because of IBM's focus on interoperability. Hewitt Associates, a global management-consulting firm, began using WebSphere last year. Hilgenberg is currently testing out version 4.

Hewitt Associates uses the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) platform for its Web development. The company had one key legacy system it needed to integrate with its Web services architecture, IBM's Customer Information Control System (Cics) transaction processing system. Finding a platform-agnostic way to make CICS talk to client systems was key, Hilgenberg said.

"Instead of having to have the clients use Cics to make a connection, we wanted to provide a more open connectivity. That's where interoperability and open standards come into play. Clients want open, unimpeded access to data, and we view Web services as the way to provide this," he said. With IBM's Web services package, "it doesn't matter what the client platform is. A Microsoft shop will have as easy access to the data as a Java shop."

Dave Kulakowski, development and technology manager of Honeywell International Aerospace Division, and a WebSphere user for two years, said he's intrigued by the UDDI support promised in version 4. Honeywell's IT strategy focuses on building reusable components that can be recycled internally and externally, and Kulakowski said he'd be interested in using the UDDI directory to find outlets for those components.

Honeywell initially selected WebSphere because of the software's enterprise JavaBeans support, Kulakowski said. Overall, he said he's quite happy with the software, although he cited its debugging and testing tools as its one chink. There are currently no applications for WebSphere to help programmers track memory leaks, Kulakowski said.

"If you build code in with a pointer to some place it shouldn't be, you have the potential of bringing down WebSphere. And we have," he said. "But I think we'll round the corner soon of getting products like that."

Other recently announced product updates and introductions include the WebSphere Studio Technology Preview for Web services, which will allow customers to build Web services applications and connect those to existing business processes, IBM said. The software will be available in a beta version in July and generally available in September.

In addition, a tool named WebSphere Business Integrator can be used to manage and integrate the Web services applications, within and between companies. This software transfers Soap messages from one application to another to link the applications and manage interaction, IBM said.

IBM added what it calls the "DB2/XML extender" to its DB2 database product to let Web services access databases. The DB2/XML extender is already integrated in DB2 Version 7.2, announced last week. This latest version of IBM's database product also supports UDDI and Soap.

Tivoli systems management software will help the user monitor and secure the Web services chain, IBM said.

A Lotus Web services enablement kit will be posted on the IBM AlphaWorks site this quarter to help software developers build Web services applications for Lotus products. Lotus Domino collaboration, workflow, and messaging capabilities can be accessed as Web services by adding Soap interfaces and WSDL descriptions to the software.

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