IBM has announced new software that will address a major source of inefficiency in computer networks and could drive more mainstream, commercial implementations of Grid computing -- the ability to take untapped resources across an enterprise and make them available where and when they're needed, resulting in a single, virtual system.
In today's data centers, the clusters of servers that run business applications often do a poor job of juggling unpredictable workload. One server may sit idle, while another is constrained.
This leads to a Catch-22 where companies -- needing to avoid network bottlenecks and safeguard connectivity with customers, business partners and employees -- often plan for the highest imaginable spikes in demand, then watch as all those servers operate well under capacity most of the time. Organizations are looking for better ways to use the hardware and software they have already purchased.
IBM has developed a first-of-its-kind "traffic cop-like" software product that automatically and intelligently monitors application workload and routes traffic to one server or another according to its workload at a given time. It allows a cluster consisting of many servers -- from dozens to hundreds -- to operate as a single environment that automatically adapts to sudden changes, much as the electrical grid works.
This can improve network performance -- for example, eliminating some of the missed server connections that can be a mystery to Web users -- and allow companies to get more value out of their existing server resources.
The technology was developed by IBM Research and the company's software development teams over the past two years, and becomes available in the IBM WebSphere Application Server beginning July 25. WebSphere was recently named by a top analyst firm as the best-selling Web application platform.
The "traffic cop" is easily installed by an IT administrator with a simple point and click as part of the WebSphere software setup.
The new technology is the latest example of IBM's work to take Grid computing into the commercial mainstream. IBM is offering technology and bringing together business partners, developers, system integrators and IT vendors of all sizes to form a standards-based Grid ecosystem that will accelerate adoption in the enterprise. IBM's strategy is built around addressing the needs of nine industries -- aerospace, automotive, financial, government, life science, agricultural/chemical, electronics, higher education and petroleum.
In Grid computing, all of the disparate computers and systems in an organization or among organizations become one large, integrated computing system. That single system can then be turned loose on problems and processes too large and intensive for any single computer to easily handle in an efficient manner.
Under non-grid circumstances: mainframes might lie idle 40 percent of the time; Unix servers are sometimes "serving" less than 10% of the time; many business PCs may be under utilized as much as 95% of a typical day.
Capabilities such as those in the new WebSphere software help a Grid gather untapped power and functionality and make it available to users across the grid as needed.
Future versions of IBM WebSphere will extend the "traffic cop" capability to disparate parts of a company and automatically coordinate multiple clusters of servers running various business applications, rather than just single clusters running a particular application such as online trading. Other new features in WebSphere that help customers improve network performance:
- WebSphere Performance Advisor: This simplifies the IT administrator's job by using live data collected from a running system to analyze changes and recommend actions to improve application performance. It advises IT managers how to set up the system to handle different levels of network traffic -- such as a brokerage firm looking to handle a surge in stock trades -- and also specific parameters, such as setting up database connections. While this feature helps customers anticipate changes in their environment today, future improvements will provide more advanced autonomic features that can manage the system without human intervention.
- Automatic Backup Clusters: With WebSphere, customers can automatically configure their system to set up a back-up cluster of servers in case the primary cluster fails -- without having to write any code. No longer do customers have to spend time setting up back-up clusters since workload is automatically sent to another cluster elsewhere in the system if a cluster fails.
WebSphere Offers Broader Support For Platforms, Standards
With V5.0.2, WebSphere also broadens its support for a multi-platform, open standards-based IT environments by adding Microsoft's Windows 2003 server to the 25 platforms that WebSphere already supports. Windows 2003 Server joins Linux, Windows XP, Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, IBM's eServer family of iSeries, pSeries and zSeries, and many other supported software and hardware platforms.
WebSphere V5.0.2 also expands its support for open standards-based Web services. In addition to all newly released Web services standards (AXIS V1.0 and JSR 109 support, plus the latest specifications for SOAP, UDDI, WSIF and Web Services Gateway), WebSphere V5.0.2 is the first production-level application server to support WS-I 1.0, which gives developers an advantage in building Web services applications across heterogeneous environments. WebSphere also provides additional support for JDK 1.4 specification, which moves WebSphere closer to J2EE 1.4 compliance.
Pricing and availability
WebSphere Application Server v5.0.2 -- Enterprise -- available July 25 for $30,000 per processor (includes one free year of maintenance and services)