Sun, BEA Take Aim at IBM with Bundle

Agreement pairs WebLogic app server with Solaris 9.

Sun Microsystems Inc.s announcement last week to bundle BEA Systems Inc.s WebLogic application server with Solaris 9 is either a retreat or an advance, depending on whom you talk to.

According to officials at Sun, in Santa Clara, Calif., the new pairing was created to take on IBM and its WebSphere application server.

"As a systems company, absolutely" the deal is aimed at IBM, said Mark Herring, senior director of Java and Web services business at Sun. "IBM and Microsoft [Corp.] we view as our two major competitors out there."

The deal, which kicks off next month, calls for Sun to ship an evaluation version of BEAs WebLogic 7.0 with the Solaris 9 system administrators kit; this despite the fact that Solaris 9 already integrates Suns ONE (Open Net Environment) application server. Under the agreement with BEA, of San Jose, Calif., Sun will include a six-month trial license for WebLogic with each Sun server shipped running Solaris 9.

Sun has been hovering in the low double digits for application server market share, while BEA and IBM have battled for the top slot, with the two tied at about 35 percent of the market apiece now, according to Giga Information Group Inc., of Cambridge, Mass.

The move also indicates a reversal of sorts for Sun. The company just a few months ago talked of beefing up the Sun ONE application server and taking on BEA directly.

"We are not conceding they are better or not; were just conceding they have the lions share of the market," said Herring.

Anne Thomas Manes, CEO of Bowlight Inc., a Boston consultancy, said, "Sun has always been a bit schizophrenic in the way it promotes its software products and encouraging a rich ISV software portfolio. I think it was a mistake for Sun to bundle the app server with Solaris because Im sure it did damage to the BEA relationship."

Furthermore, Suns plans for its new "Project Orion" call for even further integration between Solaris and Sun ONE (see related story).

Curt Stevenson, vice president of business development at Back Bay Technologies Inc., a Needham, Mass., integrator and Sun customer, called Suns move "interesting" and said he is curious as to how it will play out.

"Sun is definitely saying it is in no way going to impact the investment in Sun ONE app server," Stevenson said. "While Im sure customers are skeptical, this could be valid. Solaris will now come with both BEA and Sun ONE application servers, giving the customer the choice. WebLogic is the right choice for some customers, and Sun ONE is right for others."

Herring said Sun in June will deliver an application server release, with new high-availability and failover features. A BEA spokesman said BEA will ship a release of WebLogic in the spring. The technology, code-named Olympic, will feature enhanced usability, simplified management and greater integration with the other parts of the WebLogic platform.