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What's the future of WebSphere Portal as HCL acquires IBM products?

WebSphere users can breathe easy after its acquisition by HCL was finalized in July 2019. The platform will receive heavy investment from its new caretakers.

The official close of HCL Technologies' $1.8 billion acquisition of various IBM products -- including Sametime, Connections, Lotus Notes, Domino and others -- in July 2019 has caused ripples in the server side development world.

Of particular concern is the transfer of products such as WebSphere Commerce Suite, Connections and IBM's Digital Experience platform, which includes WebSphere Portal and IBM's enterprise-grade web content management (WCM) tools.

There's a growing level of uneasiness regarding what the HCL acquisition means for customers with heavy investments in WebSphere, Portal and IBM WCM tools, and it's a sentiment I share, as well. I attended the HCL Technologies' Factory Tour Story 3 conference in mid-July to learn more.

For me, the big question to be answered pertains to the future of WebSphere, Portal and the WCM tools that I have been using for almost 20 years. The question I wanted answered: What will IBM's Digital Experience Platform look like under HCL's stewardship?

IBM HCL fears

One of the biggest fears for the future of WebSphere from those with major investments in the platform is HCL would simply put the tools it acquired out to pasture, while simply bleeding licensing revenue from existing customers who can't port quickly onto other platforms.

Many organizations have built their empires as a Shady Acres retirement home for geriatric software, but HCL assured conference goers that will not be the fate of the recently acquired WebSphere products.

HCL demonstrated quite passionately that it is committed to heavy investment not only in the Digital Experience platform, but also in the full suite of acquired products, including IBM Connections, Sametime, Domino and Lotus Notes.

Future of Portal includes a new name: HCL DX

One of the biggest fears for those with major investments in the WebSphere platform is HCL would simply put the tools out to pasture.

How HCL is investing in its newly acquired IBM software was extolled at part of the unveiling of its product roadmap. But before charting its future course, HCL wanted to make one thing clear: From here on in, there will no longer be a product branded WebSphere Portal, which comes packaged with the IBM-branded WCM tool. Instead, the new suite of tools that are based on these technologies will be branded the HCL Digital Experience, or HCL DX.

The first release, HCL DX 9.5, will be available in the fourth quarter of 2019. HCL DX 9.6 will follow shortly thereafter. Note that the 9.5 and 9.6 numbering scheme reflects the fact that this tool picks up from the version 9.0 release of the IBM Digital Experience product.

These first deliveries will include the following additions to the existing DX platform:

  • containerization support; and
  • an integrated digital asset management feature -- think Watson Content Hub, but more thoughtfully implemented.
HCL Conference antics
The HCL Factory Tour 3 conference embraced a 'Toy Story' theme.

HCL's first fully refactored version of the platform will come as a full increment, HCL DX 10. The first double-digit release will include the following:

  • an extension to the DX APIs;
  • significant performance improvements;
  • improved authoring tooling;
  • rearchitected services platform -- think tightly integrated DX features, such as content rendering, personalization and rule engine, authoring, etc., extracted as extensible and independently managed microservices; and
  • a new licensing model -- although specifics around licensing are still being worked out.

According to HCL, there will be no more WebSphere in the HCL DX 10 release. Yes, the legacy WebSphere Application Server will be completely removed from the HCL DX 10 release.

So, the future of HCL DX does not include WebSphere?

This was a bit of a shock to me. I've worked with the WebSphere platform since version 3.02. Why would HCL want to rip out and replace WebSphere? The answer is quite simple: HCL wants to completely rearchitect the platform and have it function completely independent of the legacy application server.

And while discussions about the current investments made in the product suite HCL acquired from IBM are exciting, what left me feeling most encouraged was the inspiring vision that those leading the conference extolled.

The HCL vision for the acquired IBM products will come to fruition as a platform in which products exist independently, but collaborate and interoperate through a common, event-driven framework. We'll obviously have to wait and see how this will ultimately be accomplished, but we should have our answers in late 2020.

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How has the HCL acquisition of IBM WebSphere products made you think twice about continuing to invest in the platform?
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I don't think people are thinking twice about their investment in WebSphere, so much as they are wondering what HCL's investment will be. The portfolio of products the purchased are solid and more than capable, but they need to be updated to compete with modern technologies. IBM WCM hasn't been updated in a decade, and it needs to be revamped or else people will flock to OpenText or Adobe. And portal needs to be containerized and its 4 gig memory footprint needs to be addressed. But if they can take care of those types of issues, they will remain a dominant player in the industry.
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The introduction of HCL DX 10 sounds to me like it would not make sense to spend money to upgrade an old WCS to V9 in the near future. Meanwhile, how do HCL plan to keep current customers loyal until 10 is mature enough?
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Unfortunately Websphere family is dying breed of software. We are currently in the process of phasing it out completely and replacing it with technologies more suited for the cloud. Personally I think that most of the new work coming in for the Webshpere consultants will be in form of supporting existing platforms and deployments.
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