Domino developers ask: Why WebSphere?

Experts say WebSphere can offer Domino shops a number of useful features and functions, but not every environment requires those extra capabilities.

Tommy Wu is like many Domino developers and administrators. Wu, who works as a project engineer for MCI in Richardson, Texas, likes Domino's flexible database and e-mail capabilities, its easy-to-use directory security and the ability to replicate databases across multiple servers.

Wu is sufficiently satisfied with Domino, and he doesn't quite understand all the hype over WebSphere or why he might benefit from adding WebSphere to his Domino environment.

"I would like to know, from a technical perspective, what WebSphere can do [for Domino users]," he said. "Without this knowledge, I have no reason to implement WebSphere."

Andy Foshee, a consultant in Raleigh, N.C., working for Elster Electricity LLC, agreed. He said even though WebSphere does a few things better than Domino, it isn't worth the additional licensing costs, maintenance costs andtraining and staffing requirements.

So why should Wu, Foshee or any Domino pro consider WebSphere?

As with most things, the answer depends on a company's unique environment and expectations. While WebSphere offers several additional features and functions that many Domino shops would find useful, not every environment requires those extra capabilities.

WebSphere and WebSphere Portal

WebSphere can serve many needs but, for the purposes of most Domino developers, it is a Java Web application server and an enterprise portal.

WebSphere Application Server gives developers the ability to use the full range of J2EE technology, to deploy new Java-based applications or -- from a Domino perspective -- to run Java applications that can access Domino data. For instance, IBM supplies a Java Server Page (JSP) tag library for Domino that automates the creation of Java code for functions such as viewing Domino data, producing online forms and other Java Web site activities.

WebSphere Portal is an application that sits on the application server and provides a single user interface to various enterprise applications and data sources. It can use such Domino applications as portlets, providing e-mail, collaboration tools and calendar for enterprise users. IBM has pre-packaged portlets for Domino applications, including the Lotus Domino Portlet Builder and the Domino Web Application Portlet.

WebSphere vs. Domino

Domino enthusiasts and experts agree that Domino tops WebSphere in several key areas, such as directory administration and security.

"You can do security from the database down to the user's view of a document and down even further to the specific data field," notes Alan Lepofsky, senior marketing manager for IBM's Lotus software division. "Others in the industry are working to come out with products that can do that, but we've been doing it since 1989."

Domino is also frequently praised for its strength as a rapid application development tool, its workflow and collaborative features and its built-in ability to easily replicate databases and applications -- a feature that enables better disaster recovery.

But organizations that demand full support for J2EE technologies, such as Enterprise Java Beans (EJBs), JSPs or the Java 2 Connector (J2C) architecture, will likely need WebSphere.

Also, the scalability of the Domino database compared to other enterprise products, such as IBM's DB2, can be a factor. While Domino's database is more than adequate for many applications, it isn't capable of supporting large scale applications or those that need a relational database; Domino won't be relational until version 7.

"When you're talking hundreds of thousands of records, you can use Domino, but will it scale to tens of millions of records? Absolutely not," said Ron Herardian, CEO and founder of Global System Services Corp., an e-mail and messaging consulting firm based in Mountain View, Calif. "One would be hard-pressed to claim that Domino, as a database server, is on par with Oracle or DB2. But it is a good database server for collaborative applications."

According to experts, Domino also lacks the scalability to support huge Web applications. So if an enterprise implements a Web application that must support a million users, the high-end scalability of WebSphere's Network or Enterprise versions will be required.

"For departmental solutions and intranets where people are using Domino already, Domino is a great solution," said Herardian. "But if you're going to build a major application on the Web, such as a consumer banking application, you're not going to be doing it in Domino. You're going to be using Java Web server technology.

But small reasonably simple Web sites can get by with Domino alone. Foshee said Domino is more than sufficient for the needs of Elster's customer extranet, and that WebSphere would be overkill.

"It requires another server and experience we don't have on our staff and offers nothing for us that Domino doesn't [already provide]," he said. "True, it's far more scalable and flexible on the Web, but our Web site requirements are few, and we're able to do everything quite easily in Domino."

However, the real question isn't so much "Why WebSphere?" but "Why a Java application server?" Because there are other Java application servers on the market, including open source options such as the Apache Software Foundation's Tomcat, said Jim Mason, director of technical services for Plymouth, Mass.-based Cape Cod Bay Systems.

"If you really don't want WebSphere, you can get an open source J2EE runtime environment that is also lower in cost," said Mason. But he noted that while open source typically presumes a bit more knowledge and effort on the part of the developer, WebSphere offers tools that can make a Domino professional's life in the Java world somewhat easier.

The question "Why WebSphere -- or why any Java application server?" must be answered based on an organization's current and future needs. As Herardian noted, in most cases Domino and WebSphere are meant to complement each other, rather than compete.

"These products [serve] different roles," explained Herardian. "You can still have the underlying Domino workflow, Domino data and Domino facilities, like directory. People often think that because you can develop Web applications in WebSphere and in Domino that these products overlap and conflict, but that's not really true."

Sue Hildreth is a contributing writer and editor based in Waltham, Mass. She can be reached at Sue.Hildreth@comcast.net.

This was first published in June 2004

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