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SHARE: Users flock to WebSphere sessions

WebSphere is drawing them in by the hundreds, but attendees of the SHARE conference in Minneapolis are mixed as to whether IBM is pushing its Java-based tool too hard, too fast.

MINNEAPOLIS -- IBM has spent a lot of time and effort developing and promoting WebSphere and more than a few users attending this week's SHARE conference here think Big Blue is onto something.

WebSphere, a set of Java-based tools that allow customers to create and manage sophisticated business Web sites, has been a huge draw during the conference. In fact, of the several sessions held Monday, many were standing room only.

But is IBM putting too much effort into WebSphere -- pushing a tool that only a small percentage of shops are currently implementing?

"No way," said Greg Coffey, a senior systems programmer at Wright State University in Ohio, who is taking his college's voice response applications and moving them to the Web so students will be able to register online as opposed to having to dial in and register via telephone.

WebSphere is going to be a big player in the market, Coffey said. "IBM usually doesn't sink billions of dollars into something that they don't think will work."

Too much too soon

Lora Post, software engineer and systems architect for American Family Insurance, is supportive of WebSphere but doubts whether it will save a lot of work. "WebSphere has put a lot more pressure on us, on our jobs," she said.

Some people think legacy apps can be brought to the Web in no time with WebSphere, Post said. IBM is perhaps not giving enough attention to the "learning curve" of system administrators. "The application deployment for WebSphere is so different from the old S/390, that I really don't think IBM realized the 'change gap' as opposed to the generation gap between old system programmers and newer developers," she said.

WebSphere offers tools and support for everything from development and presenting data (in such innovative ways as a mobile telephone or personal digital assistant) to integration with existing systems. To make applications more flexible, WebSphere embraces various standards, namely HTML, XML, J2EE and open source software.

The foundation of WebSphere is application servers. But built on top of that is an environment that allows a developer to build an application on NT and then move it to WebSphere on z/OS unchanged, said Richard Baird, director, WebSphere for z/OS/CICS TS for z/OS development. Developers who get used to the tools for one platform can then use them for building applications on others. Application deployment, however, varies from platform to platform.

Mainframers say that one major flaw in IBM's roll out of WebSphere is that the OS/390 always appears to be the last platform to be able to take advantage of the new features, said Baird, who spoke during the opening session for the WebSphere track. While such decisions are driven by customer feedback, Baird did say that support for MQ Series will soon be available alongside current support for CICS, IMS and DB2.

How safe is safe enough?

Yet some users such as Michael Novak, a mainframe systems programmer working with the United States Postal Service (USPS) have concerns about the security of data after Web-enabling it. Novak is in the midst of using WebSphere in a test mode with less data sensitive information.

If you work with government agencies, how do you take the data sensitive files (legacy apps) and get them to the Web securely, Novak said. He works with very data sensitive information, and doesn't really trust that WebSphere is secure. "I'd like to know this: Do the people who are using WebSphere to leverage legacy apps feel comfortable with their data integrity? Do they feel comfortable keeping the data secure?"

Post sees WebSphere struggling some in the short term especially with the big disparity between WebSphere for Unix and WebSphere for OS/390, but ultimately the latter win. "WebSphere will be like CICS. Years ago, when IBM introduced CICS, people were saying stuff like "CICS is a waste of time, and CICS would never work, etc, and now look at it -- 30 years later and it is the best transaction processing system out there."

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