August 15, 2005—IBM has announced software that the company says could help customers create an on-demand computing environment across their WebSphere application servers.

WebSphere Extended Deployment (XD) is a software product that can automate workload allocation across servers in a transactional application environment. IBM introduced the software last October, and has since issued a new version, 6.0, to extend its capabilities beyond J2EE transactional applications.

Version 6.0 can be configured to run batch and computing-intensive jobs in the background if there is spare capacity, according to IBM. By tapping unused resources at all times, systems managers could, for example, run their batch jobs intermittently during the day rather than waiting until a specified time.

For Bill Noffsinger, a systems administrator at the University of Florida in Gainesville, XD is capable of providing customers with the ability to "deploy and manage heterogeneous applications from a single deployment manager interface," as well as visualization tools that could help "application administrators become aware of and respond to performance problems and emergent conditions."

Noffsinger tested Version 6.0 and says the product would benefit from increased support for scientific workloads.

"The product deploys and supports J2EE applications more or less easily, but more effort is needed to accommodate the more computationally intensive scientific and engineering applications such as ours," he says. "The business grid functionality is a big step in that direction and allows long-running computational tasks to be managed by WebSphere."

XD is a software add-on to IBM's WebSphere Application Server platform. The package installs on WebSphere's administrative console and distributes software agents to managed application servers. The agents monitor capacity and resource use. The software creates a virtualized pool of resources across the WebSphere environment from which applications can pull server resources on demand.

XD includes what IBM has dubbed an "on-demand router," which is software that can sit on the same WebSphere server or a separate box in front of the server cluster. The router assigns application workloads among servers based on the data collected by the software agents. IT managers define the applications with highest priorities based on their business goals. The software will manage resources against the pre-set priorities.

The package can be used in three modes: manual, in which IT managers allocate resources based on the data collected by the software; supervised, in which the software prompts IT managers to allocate resources based on the software's suggestions; and full autonomic mode, in which XD automatically reallocates resources based on IT managers' predefined goals and the data collected across the servers.

With this release, IBM added the ability to monitor and collect data from non-WebSphere servers. XD cannot take automated actions on non-WebSphere servers, but it can collect data and feed that back to the on-demand router to help it determine the best way to allocate resources. XD can work with IBM Tivoli Orchestrator server provisioning software if it determines another server must be used to meet transactional processing demands.

IBM says with this release, the company competes with grid players Platform Computing and Data Synapse. HP, Sun, Microsoft, and other vendors also are working on such products.

Version 6.0 of XD is available for download from IBM. The product is expected to ship August 30. Pricing starts at 5,000 per processor for software designed as an add-on to WebSphere Application Server. IBM also offers a ,000-per-processor version with fewer features.

Denise Dubie is a senior writer for NetworkWorld.

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Denise Dubie is the director of content at PureB2B.