Websphere portfolio requires a huge range of skilled specialists

Hot skills: IBM's Websphere scores highly for range of functionality

Hot skills: IBM's Websphere scores highly for range of functionality

What is it?

IBM describes Websphere as its integration software platform, but this hardly does justice to the huge range of new, existing and re-named IBM technologies that have been stuffed into the Websphere portfolio.

It includes IBM's entire middleware infrastructure: servers, services and tools. IBM's service oriented architecture strategy (SOA) is built around Websphere, in the form of the Websphere Business Integration Server Foundation and the newer Enterprise Service Bus idea also depends on it.

The original Websphere Application Server is the foundation for everything else, but this too has undergone multiple transformations since its release eight years ago. Websphere competes with applications servers from BEA and Oracle, but so all encompassing is Websphere that it also goes head to head with Microsoft's .net, and with Jboss. Suppliers like Oracle and BEA who compete with the application server portion have also found themselves having to support Websphere technologies.

Websphere is modular, and like all IBM's mainstream products, uses open standards like J2EE, Enterprise Java Beans, Java Message Server and Web Services. There is an open source "community edition" which uses Apache Geronimo. There is also a lightweight Express edition for smaller businesses.

Where did it originate?

Version 1 appeared in 1998. Websphere was steadily extended with Corba, Java Beans and Linux support. In 2001 IBM began describing Websphere as its strategic integration platform. Version 5 was a major rewrite, and the codebase was unified across all platforms. The J2EE 1.4-compliant Version 6 was released in December 2004.

What is it for?

Websphere is used both to build and monitor the "on-demand" IT infrastructure, and to build and deploy the applications that run on the infrastructure.

There are components for business process modelling and monitoring, information integration and application integration, application development, portals, messaging and mobile working.

What makes it special?

Websphere scores highly for sheer breadth of functionality, though analysts criticise its complexity. In attempting not to exclude any of its previous technologies, there has been a certain amount of duplication: with Websphere Platform Messaging and Websphere MQ, for example.

How difficult is it to master?

WebSphere requires a huge range of skilled specialists, but IBM has worked to provide common installation, administration, security, and programming models. You could approach it as an application developer, a messaging middleware specialist or an application integration expert.

For developers, there is a choice of Rational Application Developer or Websphere Studio Application Developer. There is also Websphere Studio Device Developer for mobile applications. A grounding in J2EE or Enterprise Java Beans provides an obvious advantage. XML is another key skill to have. 

What systems does it run on?

Intel platforms, Linux and z/OS mainframes among others, including AIX, HP-UX, Solaris and Windows. Websphere for z/OS is optimised to use features like Workload Manager. The Websphere Application Server works with a wide range of web servers, including Apache, Netscape and Microsoft's IIS.

What's coming up?

The WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus.

Rates of pay

From £20,000 to £30,000 for junior developers, to £60,000-plus for consultants and implementation specialists.


IBM's developerWorks is a good place to start. IBM's structured training path to any certified Websphere role using IBM's own classroom training is a very expensive undertaking. Evaluation modules and some open source Websphere technology can be downloaded free.

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