IBM WebSphere Application Server Review

Bad documentation, does not scale well, and has a lot of complexities


What is our primary use case?

This solution is part of an enterprise web presence. It integrates well with the Tivoli Federated Identity Management system, which works as a single sign-on mechanism for other e-services that we have shared with other clients. They utilize some of our authentication engines and they provided access for their users back into their system, however, the presentation and the web presence for it comes on the WebSphere portal solution.

What is most valuable?

We've had so many challenges with the solution in the last two years that it's a bit difficult to find highlights.

It does integrate well with the Tivoli Federated Identity Management system.

What needs improvement?

I'm not certain if the WebSphere solution was deployed by IBM. There are a lot of complexities in how the solution was actually built and deployed, which means troubleshooting on management for us is pretty difficult. 

One of the biggest issues that we've had is there are certain features that we required that were hardcoded into the solution itself. When you manage them for making any architectural or solution changes, it becomes very difficult and near impossible to do. With respect to that, we tried to change the SSL certificate that would be in use, and because of how we tried to change the SSL certificate, we tried to change the DNS mover that it was pointing to.

There were hardcoded elements in the solution that didn't make it very easy for us. At the end of the day, we just kind-of renewed whatever services that we had already ongoing with it, which was a duplicate payment with what we had from other sources. We couldn't take advantage of the shared resources that we had before. We now have to maintain it as an isolated instance.

Based on the field and based on the build that was provided, we've noticed a lot of constraints in terms of the performance now.

Due to GDPR and other issues, not everybody is able to utilize cloud services. That's something that people need to be aware of. The company needs to be clear on the business use case and how they need to maintain compliance with its policies and regulations. Some of the feature sets that we found a little lacking in this particular solution. By now they've probably changed the ability to embed and utilize the rich media content and web presence. 

Our site is basically little image JPEGs, and that's it. We have low embedded video. We have low dynamic speech response for mobile viewing, we have low integration or extension for mobile apps. We have low integration as well as for dynamic content of bits from other sites. For some of our clients who wish to display information on our website, we actually have to lift the content, reform our tips, and recreate it into the content management engine.

For how long have I used the solution?

We first did a deployment back in 2008. It was an enterprise deployment where we wanted to get modules for forms and themes and gateways, especially an SMS Gateway. We needed to have different services. The IBM WebSphere solution was the only one at the time that was able to provide a full suite solution. 

We upgraded in 2014 and since then, we've kind of continued to utilize the service. In 2017 it became a bit cost-prohibitive for us to maintain all the different levels of support on it. We've just kind of been getting by with some third party support services and reactive support services.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Since we've been monitoring it directly ourselves, we've found that there has been an increase in the number of failures. The failures result in deadlock processes that generate very little to no troubleshooting logs. A lot of time we find ourselves just really staffing services to get these solutions to market in our online space. Reviewing logs to get the root cause and drilling down into something more definitive so that we could enable resolutions that are more permanent, that has been absent, basically.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

When we exited the contracts, IBM did an audit of the solution and there were licensing entitlements that we had no information about. The products themselves could only run on specific servers of specific configurations, which we worked at up until the audit was done. 

The scalability in terms of company full storage looks fine. What we've realized is that the DB2 disappears, as there is an amendment and build. Therefore the IBM DB2 database has been less than optimal as we've grown over the last two to three years. And we've started to see this as a little more of a challenge, in terms of the configuration for the build as well. It doesn't support the groups. The license entitlement rarely gives us a bare minimum for the capacity to process what we have now. So the scalability of the solution is very limited.

The scalability for the solution was supposed to be for about 800,000 users. We just coming up on 100,000 and we're already seeing performance issues.

We have roughly 100,000 users and the majority of them would be using the single sign-on service to access our client services. We have probably about 20 to 30 persons who deal with user administration and content of this onsite maintenance and management in terms of web posts, et cetera.

The rest of them are really just users - either web browser users or users of the single sign-on.

How are customer service and technical support?

The documentation around the product is not very clear, even post-implementation. IBM just basically cut us off and whatever we had was what we had. They weren't going to offer us anything. If we found gaps in the configurations or the documents, and we asked for the other stored information, nothing was forthcoming. IBM was actually very dependent on a third-party provider. There were a few instances where IBM directly handled either an implementation or configuration aspects. A lot of it was actually passed on to a third-party provider, who was the person that we used to know. A very small fraction of the price was what we were paying to IBM, in fact.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

A Microsoft solution that was used between 2006 and 2008. I believe it was based on a SharePoint platform. It really utilized the IIS together with standard HTML features, et cetera. It looked good, however, it didn't have the expandability for the other service modules that we wanted to use at the time to expand to true competitors bid. The IBM solution would have been the most comprehensive in terms of meeting the technical requirements. 

How was the initial setup?

The first deployment took about 18 months. That was in 2008. The upgrade took roughly six months, however, there were certain features and there was specific stuff we wanted that was never implemented. For example, the authentication system. While it uses our randomly generated 16 digit username, we wanted to do an alias for that system and we couldn't. I don't know what was the reason, however, it just couldn't be done. We've had issues as well with the file sizes being very bloated of using Blogger instead of any other optimized file storage mechanism. When the IBM deployment was contracted it used to run very smoothly. What we recognize now is that we're not set up properly and we're finding a lot of intricate complexities that we don't believe were necessary.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

We used to pay about $100,000-$120,000 US or somewhere around there. That was a bit cost-prohibitive for us to continue.

You need to pay for both software licenses and software support, which was the IBM backline. There were two levels of support for software and software bots. We had hardware support, which was separate, and we had to proactively monitor service maintenance support as well.

What other advice do I have?

The solution that we have now, one of the challenges we have is with the WebSphere portal. The WebSphere application and WebSphere content management software are no longer IBM products. IBM would have sold it off to ETL back in 2018 or 2019. Maintaining that as a full end to end IBM solution has become very difficult. They basically have a hands-off approach now. Anybody who's using this needs to be aware of what is available to them by way of manufacturer support and then other support. The licensing entitlements for the product need to be very carefully understood. There are limitations to the hardware configuration that goes together with the implementation.

The other thing is that we've recognized that there are few resources that have the experience and capability of monitoring this system. If you are going to deploy it, you should ensure that you either have strong and continued backline support with your vendors or third party managers or that your in-house team is well skilled in order to monitor and maintain everything and administer the system. If you can get to a point where the build, implementation, and commissioning could be done in house, that will give you a lot more visibility to all the different elements of the solution and how they integrate and interoperate so that it makes the management on troubleshooting a lot easier. 

I'm biased due to my previous experiences. My experiences are really more influenced by the build and not necessarily the product as a standalone product. 

I would rate the solution at a three out of ten.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

On-premises

Which version of this solution are you currently using?

8.1
**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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