LJ Interviews IBM WebSphere's Paraic Sweeney

by Marjorie Richardson

Paraic Sweeney is Vice President of Web Server Marketing for the IBM Software Group in Somers, New York. He has overall marketing responsibility for IBM's web server software product line, including the WebSphere Family product line. He began working for IBM in 1980 and has held a variety of international positions. Mr. Sweeney received a degree in Business Studies from University College Dublin in 1980. I interviewed Mr. Sweeney by e-mail in October 1998.

Marjorie: What event first brought Apache to your attention?

Paraic: Internally, IBM has always used a variety of web servers, including the Apache HTTP server. Based on the knowledge of Apache's past performance, IBM made the decision to ship the Apache HTTP server with the IBM WebSphere Application Server and to provide commercial, enterprise-level support for the Apache HTTP server as part of the WebSphere Application Server package.

Marjorie: What sort of evaluation procedures did you use to decide to support Apache?

Paraic: The Apache team talked to groups within IBM who were already familiar with Apache, and to external customers to get feedback on the Apache HTTP server. In addition, IBM conducted an extensive code review of the server, looking at code that the Apache Project has created, from both a performance and legal perspective. The methods by which code changes are implemented were also evaluated to ensure that IBM could participate in the manner outlined by the Apache Project.

Marjorie: What advantages do you see in having products that support Apache?

Paraic: Support for the Apache HTTP server will allow IBM customers to benefit from the broad range of skills and partners in the marketplace. An extensive amount of expertise is available for building and maintaining Apache-based web sites. By following the Apache process closely, IBM can get quicker insight into a wide variety of customer needs for web-based products. Supporting the Apache server also enables IBM to leverage the large installed base the Apache server currently has—over 50% in the most recent Netcraft survey.

Marjorie: Disadvantages?

Paraic: IBM must get accustomed to working within the guidelines of the Apache Project, which are different from the usual IBM way of developing software. In addition, the Apache HTTP server currently does not contain some functionality customers are interested in, and IBM is working with the Apache Project to add additional capabilities to the server.

Marjorie: Could you mention some functionality that IBM is working on with Apache?

Paraic: Fast Response Cache Accelerator and SSL support are being added to the WebSphere Application Server, and the Apache HTTP Server is being ported to the AS/400.

Marjorie: Could you expand on the differences (which guidelines in particular are different)?

Paraic: As a member of the Apache Project, IBM is working within the guidelines already developed by the Apache Group. Details on these guidelines can be found at http://www.apache.org/. Since submitted code is approved by the Apache Group, it is different from an IBM internal development process.

Marjorie: What do you find most attractive about Apache?

Paraic: Extensive and powerful source code with a very large installed base, along with a large base of skilled developers who are constantly looking for ways to improve their web site development skills.

Marjorie: How do you compare Apache with other HTTP servers?

Paraic: We believe Apache is the best general purpose web server available.

Marjorie: What other platforms do you support?

Paraic: Currently, for IBM's WebSphere Application Server, Standard Edition, we support NT, Solaris and AIX. Additional platforms are being evaluated. WebSphere Application Server, Standard Edition also supports several additional HTTP servers including Microsoft IIS, Netscape Enterprise Edition, Netscape FastTrack and Lotus Domino Go Webserver.

Marjorie: Is Linux one of the additional platforms being considered?

Pariac: As an ongoing business practice, IBM is constantly evaluating operating system and platform considerations to meet our customers' requirements.

Marjorie: Do you plan to support Apache with all your products? If not, why not?

Paraic: IBM has thousands of products, and many of them require an HTTP server to operate. As the needs of individual products requiring an HTTP server are updated, Apache will be considered. The first WebSphere product to be released after the announcement, WebSphere Application Server, Standard Edition Version 1.1, includes Apache on the CD. Customers who purchase this edition are entitled to the same IBM support for the included Apache server as they get for the WebSphere Application Server, Standard Edition.

Marjorie: Tell us about the products on which you are using Apache and why you chose Apache for these products.

Paraic: The main product line that drove the need for using Apache at IBM was the WebSphere product line. WebSphere Application Server, Standard Edition is IBM's Java servlet-based web application server that helps customers deploy and manage web-based applications, ranging from simple web sites to powerful e-business solutions. IBM wanted the broadest possible audience for the WebSphere products. By making the developer comfortable with his current operating environment of Apache, IBM enables these Apache developers to extend their web site building capabilities with the products from the WebSphere product line.

Marjorie: Have you considered making any of your products Open Source?

Paraic: IBM has made Open Source code available on http://www.alphaworks.ibm.com/ when appropriate.

Marjorie: What do you think needs to be added to Apache to make it more attractive to business users?

Paraic: The main features IBM sees business users requesting are SSL (secure socket layer) security, an easy to use GUI interface and support for threading of requests.

Marjorie: Apache seems to be climbing rapidly in popularity with all the PR it has gotten recently. How long do you expect that to last?

Paraic: Because of the rapidly changing nature of the Internet, IBM cannot predict the popularity of any product. IBM does note that over 50% of the HTTP servers surveyed by http://www.netcraft.com/ are operated on Apache.

Marjorie: What do you see in the future for your company and Apache?

Paraic: IBM is pleased to be working with Apache, to participate in the highly successful Apache Project and to bring industry-leading service and support to the Apache HTTP server. IBM has joined the Apache developer effort as a core member that contributes code. IBM plans to continue contributions under the existing framework that has served the Apache developer community so well in the past. By working within the Apache Project, IBM hopes to help the Apache web server community continue to advance into enterprises with IBM support and IBM- contributed code.

Marjorie: Thanks for your time.

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