Oracle's $8.5 billion bid to buy BEA Systems may help the database giant gain some ground against top middleware provider IBM, but some experts believe the opportunity exists for smaller rivals to capitalize on the fear, uncertainty and doubt associated with such a major merger.
Stuart Williams, a Technology Business Research analyst, said in a Jan. 16 research note he believes Oracle will face challenges in retaining BEA's applications partnerships due to competitive overlap with its own applications portfolio.
Count independent middleware makers Iona Technologies and Software AG among those ready to step in to snag disillusioned customers that fall through the cracks.
Iona Technologies CEO Peter Zotto told eWEEK on Jan. 16 that the deal represents the tail end of a consolidation cycle of pre-Internet, pre-Web-services integration stack vendors. That means new avenues of opportunity for Iona, which helps companies pull together disparate products and makes them accessible as Web services.
Zotto said Oracle's acquisition of BEA Systems will bring a significant overlap of the two companies' SOA (service-oriented architecture) product lines, which means customers concerned about that potentially rocky integration should look at other options. Zotto made no secret of his hopes that Iona Technologies will be one of those options.
Billing itself as the "anti-stack vendor," Iona argues that the key to the middleware market is offering customers their choice of distributed proprietary and open-source products. Iona offers an ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) and an Apache-based line called Fuse that includes an open-source ESB, message broker, services framework and mediation router.
Noting that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said the three biggest threats to Oracle's middleware business were IBM, Microsoft and open source, Zotto said Iona Technologies has the flexibility to accommodate customers that want to switch from Oracle's Fusion middleware, IBM's WebSphere or stacks from Software AG.
"It's a fantastic opportunity for Iona," Zotto said. "Customers of Oracle and BEA are going to be sitting there saying, Do I deploy on [BEA] WebLogic or BEA [AquaLogic], or Fusion?"
While Oracle is figuring out what to do with BEA's assets, Iona Technologies plans to step up its marketing efforts to meet the demands of customers sitting on the fence.
Ditto for Software AG, which knows a thing or two about big software mergers after buying WebMethods in 2007 for $546 million. Software AG sells its own brand of integration software, competing with Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and Iona, among others.
Software AG Deputy Chief Technology Officer Miko Matsumura told eWEEK Jan. 16 that the Oracle bid for BEA Systems and Sun's bid for MySQL highlight the importance of middleware and show that there is need for independent software products that transcend Oracle, IBM and Microsoft.
"Independence has its intrinsic value," Matsumura said. "As another independent, this is favorable for us."
Matsumura also said Oracle's move underscores the notion that computing is achieving a higher level of abstraction. For example, he said Oracle has transcended a number of "gravity wells," extending beyond databases to buy its way into applications (through acquisitions of PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems and more than 40 other companies), and then extending beyond the applications into the SOA middleware space with BEA.
"Oracle's timing is always pretty good, so it suggests there is a rising era of enterprise logic as opposed to application logic, so it's no longer about the rebel department application server world but about globally optimized enterprise application," he said.
However, Matsumura said, this also makes him wonder what's in store for other independent players, such as Software AG. Will Oracle's bid for BEA prompt IBM to make a move to leapfrog Oracle?
When EMC bought Documentum, knocking IBM out of the top spot in the ECM (enterprise content management) market, IBM answered the challenge by acquiring FileNet.
In the Wild West of enterprise software, anything can happen.