With consolidation in the application server space and incredible pressure from IBM, not to mention the lousy economic climate, BEA Systems Inc. finds itself battling not only vendors 100 times its size but also public perception and an analyst community that tends to write it off. But BEA has survived all this—and has even grown—through innovation.
"BEA is out-innovating everyone," said BEA CEO and founder Alfred Chuang during an interview with eWeek Labs at the BEA eWorld Developer Conference earlier this month in Orlando, Fla.
Chuang came out charging, low-key style, against IBMs WebSphere strategy, calling it "serviceware" and saying that IBM consciously keeps the WebSphere components loosely coupled so that the companys huge Global Services arm must be called on to put them all together.
Chuang also took aim at Sun Microsystems Inc., a company he once worked for. While admitting that he remains fond of Sun, he said, "A hardware company cant be a great software company."
When asked if he thought it was ironic that BEAs fundamental technology comes from Suns innovation with Java, Chuang said, "I didnt say that a hardware company cant make great software; I said that a hardware company cant be a great software company."
Suns problem, according to Chuang, has nothing to do with software. The problem, he said, is that Suns sales staff is financially motivated mainly through high-margin hardware sales—this means that the salespeople will be more likely to include other software options as part of the sale rather than include Suns own software solutions.
Chuang shrugged off open-source application server alternatives such as JBoss—an enterprise JavaBeans server—saying, "We make mission-critical software. ... Youre not going to put JBoss in an intensive-care system. This is mission-critical. This is what we do."
But BEA was close to being out-innovated itself just two years ago, when the company failed to deliver a development environment that gave developers easier access to the BEA application server. At the same time, Hewlett-Packard Co. had purchased Bluestone Software Inc., which was a BEA partner, and it appeared that the Big 3 systems companies—Sun, IBM and HP—would smother the relative upstart.
HP, of course, kicked out Bluestone, and in moved BEA—a company dependent on such a strategic relationship to compete with IBM and Sun.
BEAs new strategy is in integration. That is, BEA is taking its entire product stack and attempting to ensure that it all works together, can be sold together and is fundamentally on the same development cycle.
WebLogic Platform 8.1, for example, expands the integrated development concepts BEA toyed with when it released WebLogic Platform 7.0. Chuang said this is in answer to customer requests for a consistent development environment.