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.
This integration effort is a multiyear project complicated by a geographically dispersed development team. BEAs WebLogic team is in San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.; the Tuxedo team is in New Jersey; and the team that BEA acquired with Crossgain Corp. is in Seattle.
In addition, Chuang said hes going to invest in China, not only to tap into developers to work on projects scoped out in the United States but also so the Chinese team can develop new multinational software on its own.
Despite Chuangs accusations against IBM, BEAs integration strategy is pretty loosely coupled itself. However, it is clear that BEA is moving quickly toward that goal.
The announcement and beta release of WebLogic Platform 8.1 signals a big step toward the convergence of enterprise integration software and the application server, predicted for years by eWeek and other publications. The BEA announcement places the company ahead of IBM, which is still molding the adapters that it licenses to those it acquired with the purchase of Crossworlds Software.
IBM, perhaps trying to fend off any momentum BEA gained at eWorld, killed the Crossworlds brand name and rolled the technology into yet another WebSphere brand name—WebSphere Business Integration Modeler and Monitor. IBM also updated WebSphere Business Integration Server. These integration packages may technically surpass BEAs, but if they are not integrated tightly into WebSphere itself, they wont save developers any time.
But if BEA is ahead in the integration race, it is not out front by much, since the company relies significantly on Information Builders iWay Software adapters as a way to tap into legacy applications controlled by archcompetitor IBM.
Also key to BEAs integration plan is the way in which the company integrates its stack. Building on the JRocket Java virtual machine, co-developed by BEA and Intel Corp., BEA offers the application server, the integration components and a development studio that for the first time looks competitive in the application development market, all topped by a portal strategy. The inclusion of Tuxedo in the stack helps BEA tap into mission-critical applications. Without Tuxedo, BEAs strategy looks identical to everyone elses.
Sun is rolling all of its components into Solaris, although theyre not tightly integrated at this point. Suns Project Orion is supposed to align the models. However, Suns development tool strategy is still in flux because it has not been able to extract notable goods out of its acquisition of Forte.
Oracle Corp. is also rolling its entire stack into a single product line, but Oracle, too, has an inconsistent tools strategy.
Borland Software Corp., then, is the only other company that can claim true platform-wide integration.
As much as Chuang rings the integration bell, however, its still not all about integration, although that story helps in an economic climate that dictates that more efficient development strategies are employed.
Chuang realized this when he said, "This is not a marketing event; this is a real event."
One of the key events that has led to BEAs growth is IBMs purchase of PricewaterhouseCoopers. While this has led to IBM controlling at least 20 percent of the system integrator space, which in turn does a majority of WebSphere implementations, it also has led the other major consulting companies to shiver at the thought of recommending WebSphere. "We cant thank IBM enough," said Chuang.
Labs Director John Taschek can be reached at email@example.com.