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IBM 'Extends' WebSphere for On-demand

Taking steps to make its WebSphere line gel even more with its e-business on-demand strategy, IBM is writing new software that boosts the performance of companies' software and hardware to provide better services.

Currently in beta, WebSphere Extended Deployment (XD) employs functionality from the Armonk, N.Y., company's mainframe line to handle unexpected spikes in usage or changing market conditions.

The product covers such businesses as financial services companies -- which handle large loads of stock trades -- as well as retail or auction businesses that experience peaks and valleys in e-commerce volume.

Running on IBM's WebSphere Application Server software, XD balances and shares the workload among dozens of applications and hundreds of application servers. It also allows IT resources to adjust on-the-fly, according to Jerry Cuomo, CTO of IBM's WebSphere Technology Institute, who added that XD can provide businesses with double-digit boosts in network performance and transaction processing speed, while paring costs.

The idea for boosting the performance of WebSphere has its roots in the company's systematic push to offer complex mainframe features, including "self-healing" or autonomic computing and virtualization, into IBM's software lines.

Like a mainframe, Cuomo said XD partitions large jobs over many processors and databases, as well as application software and servers. For example, Cuomo continued, XD features new technical components that differentiate among "classes of work" or services, allowing users to set up policies to be deployed with applications.

To do this, an "on-demand router" sits in front of WebSphere, enabling users to differentiate work in a WebSphere cluster for the first time. XD can also prioritize workloads based on importance, ensuring that a more important transaction gets processed before one that is less valuable.

"Say you want to ensure in an electronic commerce system that items placed in your shopping cart get priority over browsing catalog pages," said Cuomo. "You want to provide differentiated work or a class of services. This on-demand router can classify work or make sure tasks are handled with high priority, one of the things you were able to do on the mainframe."

In concert with IBM Tivoli Intelligent Orchestrator, the new software monitors the efficiency of the network, re-balancing and shuttling unexpected workloads to underutilized hardware and software.

As a complement to the on-demand router and policy management, Cuomo said IBM is introducing application virtualization into WebSphere with XD.

Noting that while application servers are usually static, he said IBM XD allows programmers to create a resource pool of servers. A user could have 10 servers in that pool and have a stock-trading application run anywhere in that pool deployed by a dynamic cluster.

"With this ability to manage this virtualized environment along with the policy-based management, we start to address what we've been talking about at IBM -- this on-demand operating environment," Cuomo said.

Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady said XD is IBM's latest step along a path that many software vendors -- such as Microsoft , BEA Systems and HP -- are taking to build next-generation architectures that align IT with business needs.

"XD, when delivered, will be a fundamental piece to build from," O'Grady told internetnews.com. "Whatever the term, next-generation architectures will need to be less rigid in their construction to allow for more fluid partitioning, reallocation, etc. XD is intended to deliver that functionality."

Overseen by Cuomo as a technology incubation effort in which IBM Research collaborated directly with the IBM WebSphere product and development team, WebSphere XD will be generally available later this year.