A business should be able to pull data from every source that is available to it and those at the helm should also be able to extract actionable information out of it all. Irrespective of how many sources it comes from, or how disparate the data formats may be, there should be a system in place that can extract accurate information in real time. One system that can help do this is IBM WebSphere Application Server.
What is a WebSphere Application Server?
As the name implies, a WebSphere Application Server is an application server that sits in the middle – between data sources and their final destinations which is usually the storage unit or server – hence the name “middleware.”
To be more precise WebSphere Application Server is IBM’s runtime environment for running and deploying Java Platform, Enterprise Edition (Java EE) applications.
But, apart from simply acting as a conduit between backend devices (servers, etc.) and frontend systems (terminals, apps, etc.), a WebSphere Application Server is, in fact, a software framework that also runs a Java virtual machine (JVM) as well as containers for Java-based web applications.
This means any application that runs on a WebSphere Application Server needs to be Java-based. While this might appear to be more of a constraint, it really is not. The server can integrate the applications with almost any other system or endpoint out there – even if they are third-party products.
So, how exactly do you use WebSphere Application Servers?
A WebSphere Application Server would be an ideal choice for businesses that have a number of Java-based applications that need to communicate with those that run on different platforms.
With the help of a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) sitting in the middle and with Java-based applications running on it, this required communication would be facilitated and the data coming and going could be transformed into whatever format was required before being passed on.
The WebSphere Application Server could be set up on a number of operating system platforms – Windows, Linux, Solaris, and IBM’s i and z/OS. Users connecting to this middleware could then:
- Have their inputs processed and moved on to storage devices that are also connected to it.
- Extract data from the backend servers and applications lying beyond the WebSphere Application Server, import it to the middleware, have it processed, and then allow users to consume it from their browsers.
Although it might appear to be a complex and multi-stage operation from end to end, the whole process would appear seamless to the consumer, no different than if they were accessing a server directly.
Advantages of implementing a Web Application Server
With this middleware in place, a business can expect the following advantages:
- A seamless user experience that allows for the access of various formats of data.
- The integration of data from various sources and platforms.
- Compilation of information that can then be used to draw accurate conclusions on the current status of the business’ affairs.
- The ability to collaborate with external business partners without having to worry about the compatibility of their data exchanges.
In the image above, we can see a sample scenario where the various stakeholders come together, pass through the Web Application Server in the middle, and finally go on to access the databases, message networks, and other service providers.
Now we are at the point where we have cleared up what a WebSphere Applications Server is and how it can help any business; it is time to see how we can administer and monitor it using various tools.
In fact, below, we will have a look at three of the most popular WebSphere Applications Server administration and monitoring tools.
SolarWinds is a technology company that has proven itself over the years and in many aspects of the digital industry. And now, from this company we also get one of the best WebSphere Performance Monitoring Tool as part of the Server & Appliction Monitor (SAM), that not only works on the main WebSphere server, but also on almost any supporting IT infrastructures.
Right after installation, even if done by a novice, a complete picture of their domain network will appear as this monitoring tool hits the ground running; right out of the box, it can immediately take stock of all the assets around it.
Looking into a few more details we have a tool that:
- Shows you the “big picture” which lets you know the overall health of servers. This would be helpful in a scenario where perhaps you would need to push your servers a little harder until the mission-critical time is over and you can ease the pressure for maintenance and garbage cleaning. This would only be possible if you know your servers are healthy, you had enough resources, and all services were running as expected.
- Root-cause analysis is easy with this tool as you will be able to have in-depth monitoring and diagnosis of the health of systems that are under your control.
- Monitoring and analysis will not only cover your WebSphere server but also over 200 other multi-vendor applications and servers all from a single interface.
- An administrator’s scope can cover databases like Oracle, SQL Server, SAP ASE, and MySQL that are locally hosted, in different locations, or even in the cloud.
Anyone will appreciate the splendidness of this tool when they consider the fact that the top reasons enterprise Java applications deployed on a WebSphere server crash or underperform is because they encounter:
- Unhandled exceptions
- Memory leaks
- Timeout issues that require them to be stopped or dropped by other systems
- Hardware failures
- Poor performance of supporting hardware
WebSphere helps stop this.
You can download the WebSphere Performance Monitoring Tool as part of SolarWinds SAM for a 30-day free trial.
From AppDynamics, which is a Cisco company, no less, comes the IBM WebSphere Application Server Monitoring tool. This product offers a complete solution that covers a wide scope and can work with WebSphere servers running on any platform.
- This tool was made for businesses that want to stay on top of the performance of their processes. AppDynamics has created it to be configured to track the full scope of a business’ process, to give an in-depth perspective into all their processes, and workflows that define them. At any given time, an administrator will be able to see which process is doing what and how well it is performing it.
- As a matter of fact, the business can map its WebSphere applications to their Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and tweak the software and hardware solutions as needed to improve their overall performance.
- The time spent troubleshooting, isolating, and resolving issues in applications and processes are cut drastically. With a detailed “map” of all the resources at hand, it takes mere minutes to identify where a problem is and even identify exactly what is causing it – this will cut administration times. What’s even better is that automatic remedial actions (like starting/stopping servers) can be taken to resolve these issues without the need for human intervention.
- Should you realize that you are now ready to move your WebSphere workload to the cloud, this tool will be able to make the transformation a breeze for you. It will tell you which apps are ready to be moved to the cloud and which ones might need some tweaks before they are optimized for the new environment. Once they have been moved, you will also be able to monitor them using this tool – even when the applications are located in multiple, separate cloud environments.
With this tool, a business takes control of all its WebSphere applications and can truly use them to improve its overall competitiveness.
Another great WebSphere monitoring tool comes by way of ManageEngine: its Applications Manager has the capability of monitoring and managing various application hosting servers including WebSphere Applications Server.
- Administrators can track user experience by measuring the Application Performance Index (Apdex), which measures the performance of an application – WebSphere hosted ones included. The feedback that can be gathered from the assessment of database performances, workflows, and code bugs can help with improving customer satisfaction.
- Admins don’t need to hover around their networks and servers. The tool can be configured to send out alerts in real time which allows them to react to any changes before their end-users are affected by them. In other instances, scripts can be executed once certain criteria (usually changes in performances) are met.
- Detailed monitoring for memory usage and the prevention of leakages, avoiding out-of-memory exceptions, and creation of core dumps – basically, proactively making sure that no application or hardware device is the cause for crashes, downtimes or tardiness. These are the exciting features that come with the Applications Manager.
- Administrators will be able to discover nodes and servers – automatically – which will save time and energy in larger network environments. Alternatively, parts of these nodes and networks can be “ignored” while the focus is turned to others for detailed monitoring or testing.
What is even more interesting is that this software solution comes from the makers of the Zoho suite of corporate solutions. If that isn’t a mark of quality, we really don’t know what is.
What do the reviews say about WebSphere Servers?
A WebSphere Application Server comes with its pros and cons; let’s have a look at a few:
- WebSphere is easy to use and its administrative console makes it easier to work with even some of the most complex configurations.
- It is also compatible with many Java versions, meaning you won’t be forced to choose one or worry it might reject some of your applications.
- Most of its features allow an administrator to become proactive in keeping applications and servers running smoothly. In fact, plans and configuration allow for forecasting growths in resources hardware and software requirements by collecting and correlating trends over time.
- No more firefighting – administrators become proactive participants in keeping their servers and applications optimal with the help of WebSphere making them effective parts of the workforce.
- Adding and removing resources is very easy – in fact, most of the work is done when WebSphere is initially installed. Ffrom then on, the discovery of new nodes, servers, and applications comes with little or no effort.
- Like almost all of IBM’s products, WebSphere is rather pricey; so much so that one wouldn’t be too wrong if they thought it was actually overrated with even more complex licensing fees to follow – flagship solution or not. Also, they don’t have a free trial version – who doesn’t that?
- There are those who might complain about the Return On Investment (ROI) not being high enough, even if they were to commit to including WebSphere in their network.
- Although it is a very efficient application, it comes at a cost – its overhead could be on the heavy side when compared to other similar solutions found on the market. It is resource-intensive, especially when it comes to CPU and memory usage.
- While installation of WebSphere is graphical and straight-forward, the configuration can be a bit daunting as it is mostly done using command lines and setting up with XML files. An expert will almost always have to be on hand to tackle this part of the job.
- For a major corporate software solution like this, the amount of community support or even online presence regarding WebSphere Application Servers is quite low. It’s almost like not many people know about it outside the realm of the big business world. Perhaps, IBM needs to push it to the common-folks out there. There needs to be a place where people can come to discuss their experiences about it.
Should you get a WebSphere Application Server?
Our recommendation would be: if you have numerous, independent Java-based applications that need to “talk” to other foreign systems and you deem it to be critical to your business processes, then you should go for it – if you can afford it.
Otherwise, small businesses with a smaller IT budget need not bother with a WebSphere Application Server, as there are other cheaper, less-bulkier solutions available.