Hot skills: Websphere can offer high rewards but you will never master all of it

IBM continues to add components to its e-business suite

IBM continues to add components to its e-business suite

What is it?

Websphere is IBM's e-business platform. The Websphere portfolio includes an application server, a "studio" bundling many of IBM's development products, business portals and a suite of links to other host and legacy applications. Its main competitor as an application server is BEA's Weblogic.

Websphere builds on many of IBM's mainstream technologies - it is based on Java 2 Enterprise Edition - and there are plenty of ways in for people with different skills.

The Websphere Studio is built on the Eclipse Foundation - the open source development tools initiative for Java-based development, set up in opposition to Microsoft's proprietary approach - and also includes the suite of end-to-end development management products IBM acquired when it took over Rational.

Where did it originate?

Websphere began as an application server in 1998 and gained in importance as IBM articulated its on-demand/ service-oriented architecture computing strategy.

In 2001, IBM began describing Websphere as its strategic integration platform.

What is it for?

Websphere is the bit that ties everything else together, making it possible for different applications to talk to one another. It is also a development and deployment environment.

It provides a framework for web services, using new and legacy applications. It is integrated with other IBM products, such as Tivoli for systems management and Lotus for collaboration.

What makes it special?

IBM was able to draw on existing technologies such as MQ Series and its Java integration and development technologies to create Websphere. The tools were proven and stable and the skills required to use them were well established.

How difficult is it to master?

There are many components to Websphere, providing a variety of openings for people from different backgrounds.

Nobody can be expected to master the whole of the product - in fact, it is extremely difficult to gain an overview of Websphere. You could approach it as an application developer, a messaging middleware specialist, an application integration specialist, or an e-business expert, to name a few.

You could also move from a proprietary application background to the more generic skill set Websphere offers. Some major application suppliers, such as Siebel, have integrated their products with Websphere.

Where is it used?

Originally targeted at large corporate mainframe users, Websphere has been extended to other platforms and IBM has recently launched versions of Websphere components such as Business Integration Server Express for small and medium-sized businesses.

What systems does it run on?

z/OS and OS/390, OS/400, AIX, HP-UX, Solaris, Linux on Intel, mainframes and Windows. It is also compatible with open standards such as Soap and with other J2EE platforms.

Not many people know that...

IBM claims Websphere is supported by more than 9,000 independent software suppliers.

What is coming up?

IBM is developing different suites of portals, templates and business integration tools for different industry sectors.


IBM offers a wide range of classroom-based courses and online and distance leaning materials, leading to the various categories of Websphere certification. Expect to pay more than £300 a day.

IBM's Developerworks site is full of free tutorials on different aspects of Websphere.

Rates of pay

Websphere specialists are in demand and salaries for Websphere architects, portal experts and J2EE developers can be £40,000 to £50,000. There is also plenty of contract work at £300 to £450 a day.

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