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Martin LaMonica

Staff Writer, CNET

IBM is expected to disclose on Wednesday features of the forthcoming version of its WebSphere application server, which will center on improving performance and administration.

WebSphere Application Server 6, the company’s Java-based server software for running business applications, will be available before the end of the year, the company said. Big Blue had added a number of enhancements designed to make the software more reliable in case of outages and simpler to manage once applications are running.

The update will also bear the first fruits of IBM’s strategy to beef up its standards-based integration software. The company has rewritten the Java-based messaging engine included in WebSphere and developed tools to simplify the task of wiring applications together via messaging.

IBM’s primary competitors in the Java application servers are BEA Systems, which is trying to stabilize itself after two disappointing quarters and the departure of several executives, and Oracle, which analysts say is seeing growth in its market share. The market is getting increasingly competitive as Sun Microsystems makes its bid to garner more customers and developers seek open-source alternatives, such as JBoss, to commercial Java application servers.

Like IBM, BEA plans to introduce data messaging capability–called an enterprise service bus–into the next version of its own application server, which is expected next year. Reliability, in the form of automated backup, is also a top design priority, BEA executives said.

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Feature presentation
Many of the features built into WebSphere 6 Application Server, such as quicker start-up time and better performance, were dictated by the needs of independent software vendors, said Bob Sutor, IBM’s director of WebSphere infrastructure. IBM last year launched a broad campaign to enlist application partners to embed IBM’s infrastructure software, or middleware, in their own products.

The WebSphere update introduces a tool to simplify the process of configuring servers in a cluster, where one server acts as a backup for others. It has also revamped the transaction-processing software so that outages that may have caused five or six minutes of costly downtime are reduced to a few seconds, Sutor said.

WebSphere 6 Application Server also adds support for standards, including the Web Services Interoperability (WS-I) Basic Profile 1.1, WS-Security and WS Transactions.

In tandem with the release of WebSphere server software, IBM will release a rebranded set of Java development tools, which will include wizards to reduce the time required to perform common tasks. WebSphere Site Developer will be called Rational Web Developer for WebSphere Software and WebSphere Application Developer, which is aimed writing more complex applications, will be called Rational Application Developer for WebSphere Software.

IBM did not disclose pricing for the upcoming version. The current cost of WebSphere Network Deployment, the entry level server, is $15,000 per processor. The Express version, which is aimed at small and midsize businesses, costs $2,000 per processor but is limited to a two-processor server.