App Server Wars Heat Up

BEA, Oracle roll out new offerings, and Oracle announces program to lure BEA customers.

While BEA Systems Inc. announced the availability of the new version of the foundation of its application server platform, Oracle Corp. announced a new application server offering of its own, along with a program aimed directly at BEAs heart.

Oracle Monday announced a version of its application server, known as the Oracle 9iAS Application Server Java Edition, and a new program known as its "Switch and Save" migration program aimed at getting BEA users to switch to Oracle. On the same day, BEA announced the availability of its BEA WebLogic Server 8.1, which is the base of the NEA WebLogic Enterprise Platform. BEA, of San Jose, Calif., also announced the availability of BEA JRockit 8.1, the companys Java virtual machine optimized for Intel platforms.

Thomas Kurian, senior vice president of Oracle 9iAS, said the new Java edition is a direct threat to BEA and is aimed at seeding the market for Oracle by delivering a cost-effective, enterprise-class Java application server to Oracles existing customers and prospects through direct sales, to Oracle partners, resellers and integrators, and to independent software vendors (ISVs) who wish to embed the Oracle application server with their offerings.

To this end, Oracle announced it is giving away embedded licenses of Oracle9i Application Server Java Edition free to ISVs, a move aimed at JBoss Group LLC, which markets its open-source Java application server, said John Magee, vice president of Oracle9i.

Kurian said Oracles solution appeals to BEAs customer base because "the majority of BEA customers talk almost exclusively to an Oracle back end…"

And the Oracle offering is up to seven times less costly than comparable IBM application server and tools solutions and up to five times less than BEAs solutions, Khurian said. Priced at $5,000 per CPU, the Oracle solution includes the application server with clustering support; Oracle9i JDeveloper toolset; Oracle HTTP Server; Oracle9iAS TopLink, to integrate objects and relational databases; and Oracle Enterprise Manager for systems management. Kurian said Oracles solution includes much more functionality than the "Express" versions of IBMs and BEAs application server offerings.

With its Switch and Save program, Oracle said BEA users can at no cost switch to Oracle by trading enterprise licenses of BEA WebLogic for an equal number of Oracle9i Application Server Java Edition. Khurian said customers who migrate stand to save up to 50 percent on support costs.

In addition, Oracle announced that it has more than 15,000 Oracle9iAS customers and is ahead of BEA by 10 percent in terms of customer base. "With Oracle you can have a single vendor for both of your middle tier applications, the application server and database," Kurian said.

As for those numbers, Stephen OGrady, an analyst with RedMonk LLC, a Hollis, N.H., said: "that strikes me as a bit of creative accounting—while Oracles made progress with its product and the public perception of it is generally good, Im inclined to believe that the numbers showing them ahead of BEA from a customer perspective are based on a complex maze of Oracle site licenses and the like as opposed to sales of the application server specifically."

Eric Stahl, BEAs product director for WebLogic Server, said: "BEA almost never sees Oracle in the sales cycle, as evidenced by their single digit market share. This announcement is a page from an old playbook of Oracles as they have previously announced similar competitive migration programs that to our knowledge have never produced any customers to take them up on the offer."

However, "BEA is certainly vulnerable in this market, and this opens up the conflagration into a multiple front war for them," OGrady said. "While BEA continues to innovate in adding more value added services into the WebLogic platform, theyre now faced with a pitched battle from vendors like IBM, Oracle and Sun who all possess rather large installed bases that they can sell into. Its very much like natural selection—Oracles perception is that BEA is an easier target than IBM, and are therefore focusing their attentions in that direction."

An IBM spokeswoman said the company had no comment on Oracles announcements.

Anne Thomas Manes, an analyst with the Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, said: "I view WebLogic as one of the better app servers; but I think Oracle is just as good. I havent personally heard stories that people are disgruntled with BEA—but there have to be some customers out there that are anxious to get a divorce. I expect that Oracle will definitely steal some customers from BEA with this ploy.

"I dont believe the claim that Oracle has more customers...I do believe the claim that Oracle may have shipped more licenses than BEA. I believe that Oracle AS is installed on more shelves than any other app server software. But I dont think that equates to more installed users."

Regarding the Switch and Save strategy, Manes said: "Sounds like AOL and MSN...Well forward your e-mail free for one month... Its an interesting play. The fact that Oracle promises to provide professional services to port all existing apps at no charge makes the move viable—even appealing. Oracle is definitely a cheaper solution than BEA."

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