When Sun Microsystems notified customers it would no longer support its NetDynamics Web platform, Cleveland-based KeyCorp found itself caught between a rock and a hard place.
"We had an option to upgrade to the next release of the product, and after that the product was going to be discontinued," said Carolyn Gardner, vice president of enterprise application integration at Key's technology services subsidiary.
Rather than stick with technology that was quickly becoming obsolete, the company decided to evaluate application servers that would meet future demands. Application servers are Internet infrastructure software platforms that enable companies to develop, deploy and integrate e-business programs.
Assessing its options, the $86 billion bank looked at e-commerce solutions from Sun, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Edify, and others. In its evaluations, the vendor-shy bank put a high priority on product support. "During our evaluation, IBM really showed a lot of support," said Gardner.
That was one of the top reasons the bank ultimately chose IBM's WebSphere application server and software tools.
WebSphere comes combined with a set of development tools that allow rapid evolution of new applications. It supports business applications from simple Web publishing through enterprise-scale transaction processing.
Key's Gardner was impressed with IBM's VisualAge for Java tool kit. "It was so easy to use and provided a test environment that really helped us with quality issues," she said. It also didn't hurt that the bank was already running back-end systems on an IBM mainframe. Down the road, KeyCorp would have the option of running WebSphere on that mainframe.
KeyCorp installed WebSphere last summer and had its first application in production by December. For its first project-a time tracking application for its risk management team-KeyCorp outsourced development to IBM. Since then, the bank has taken over development and currently has eight applications in production, and another 30 in process.
Gardner recently kicked off the project to convert Key's Internet banking application from NetDynamics to WebSphere. She expects the bank will be completely off NetDynamics by the end of next year.
About 100 programmers in the bank's IT development organization are dedicated to WebSphere projects. The most difficult part of the deployment, Gardner said, was dealing with people and process issues. In addition to the new development tools, the bank was also moving to component-based development and implementing a new software methodology. "We were dealing with a lot of change at one time."
Much effort was also spent getting programmers onboard with the project. "We spent a lot of time in white board sessions, where we actually sat down and explained why we're doing it," said Gardner. "Ultimately, people did start to say this is a better way because we focused on the actual benefit and the long-term picture."
The bank addressed the development challenge by creating a center of excellence for WebSphere development. "We had a group of people that had participated in our pilot application and they became mentors," says Gardner. "Every time a project came onboard that was going to use WebSphere, they had a mentor that worked with them in both the upfront analysis and ultimate design and construction."
The move to WebSphere gives KeyCorp more than just the ability to get existing applications on another Web application server quickly and reliably. "It also opens a whole new world of opportunity," said Stefan van Overisveldt, program director, WebSphere technical marketing at IBM. "We have a whole set of additional components that will allow them to do things like make applications available to cell phones or PDAs or build a portal or personalized Web sites on top of it."
That will become even easier with the upcoming release of version 4.0 of the application server. "It's a whole new architecture that's going to have the ability to snap in components to do these types of functionalities, portals, edge server and so on," said Gardner.
While citing scalability, security, reliability, improved time to market and minimized cost as the primary benefits of the new server, Gardner said that creating a component-based development environment is the area of most excitement for her team. "Ultimately, we're all going to be talking the same language from a business perspective."
Move all Web applications and development onto a new application server.
"It was so easy to use and provided a test environment that really helped us with quality issues."
- CAROLYN GARDNER, vice president, enterprise application integration