T managers once maintained a semblance of control over what types of operating systems were run in the data center, but they may as well relinquish all hope of doing so in the future—if they haven't already. The modern data center, while sophisticated, is more frequently a mixed bag of platforms—and that bag includes Windows.
Multiple platforms in the data center complicate many things, not the least of which is what Web server software to use. IBM wants to make sure that people understand that a mixed platform environment does not rule out WebSphere.
"A lot of people have already bought into making use of Windows as a platform [in the data center]," says Rob High, chief architect of IBM's WebSphere platform. "And a lot of people are concerned about what that means to them strategically."
High maintains that WebSphere offers the best combination of security, performance, and scalability on Windows, while conceding that explicit support for applications and components built using the .NET framework is not planned. Instead, High says that WebSphere supports interoperability between the Microsoft platform and J2EE via Web services, a method that he says all vendors would agree is correct and sufficient.
"Our strategy is not based on a superset type system that effectively dilutes your native experience with language but rather to look to XML as a canonical type system," he says. "We're not going to get into a situation like Microsoft has with VB and VB.NET where they changed the object model type system and caused a lot of developers who are familiar with the data concepts of their language to change. The language that they're offering is essentially not the same language as they had before."
Trading on Java's Security
High said the real value of WebSphere on Windows is superior security, scalability, and high availability.
High says when it comes to security, the main advantage of WebSphere is its use of Java. Both the Java language and the J2EE platform impart inherent security characteristics, he says. High cites byte code protection, validation, memory isolation, and built-in platform authorization as key advantages of the Java language.
"The second layer is the inherent security of the J2EE platform, which includes an authorization and protection policy. We've exploited the Java authentication and authorization service, the JAAS framework, to enable both credential-based authentication as well as pluggability for third-party providers as well as the Java crypto engine. To make sure that we've got nominally secure, good quality encryption algorithms being applied there with the option to plug in even stronger ones."
More simply put, WebSphere can ride the coattails of security advancements created across an entire industry.
High says not every patch that Windows administrators have had to apply can be blamed on specific problems within IIS, but it casts a shadow over Microsoft's adroitness in the security arena and "it certainly draws out the question of what is the fundamental theory of security on which Microsoft operates; to ensure that anything they can do [to be secure] really is secure."
Getting on the Grid
Clustering is the other feature to which High attributes a strategic advantage of WebSphere on Windows. Clustering, he says, "lends a great deal of horizontal capability so you can add capacity by adding machines into the cluster. We provide that kind of clustering capability in a heterogeneous environment—including Linux, Unix, Windows, and mainframe-based systems."
This way IT managers can move machines in and out of the data center without concern for what operating system it runs. And High says later IBM will roll out new technology that automates server resource allocation, moving workloads on and off of available machines in the cluster, regardless of OS. (Read our coverage of similar plansannounced last week by Oracle.)
It's worth noting that some of the features IBM cites as major advantages of WebSphere—such as J2EE platform reliability—are not unique to WebSphere. And there's no way to know whether these features will be enough to lure customers away from competitors, but IBM believes that the growing requirement to support Windows in a mixed platform data center gives it a strategic advantage that it doesn't intend to squander.