Theres been ceaseless debate and conjecture about whether BEA Systems is in danger of sinking into technological irrelevance. There has been talk of BEA being marginalized in its core WebLogic application service market and levered out of its position in the enterprise Web services software stack by competition from Oracle, IBM and the open-source Apache Software Foundation.
Along with the industry chatter, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has been taunting BEA with his companys claims that the Oracle 10g application server is stealing market share from the BEA server.
If that wasnt enough, BEA has been dogged by rumors that it is Oracles next big buyout target. That rumor was stirred up yet again this week even as BEA executives appeared at the NASDAQ MarketSite in New Yorks Time Square Thursday to take the wraps off its “AquaLogic” SOA (service-oriented architecture) strategy. BEA officials declined to comment on the rumor Thursday.
But with its AquaLogic strategy BEA has an opportunity to develop an entirely new market that has the potential to support the companys growth for years to come, if it successfully carries out what it described as a three-year product development and marketing strategy.
AquaLogic is at the core of what BEA is calling its “Enterprise Liquid Assets” vision, which will provide SOA technology to enable enterprises to use the Internet to integrate information assets that have been locked away in heretofore isolated data caches.
For years BEA has been talking mainly to application developers and software engineers who use Java or Microsoft .Net programming tools to build e-commerce applications that run on its WebLogic application server.
With the new AquaLogic product family, BEA is talking to the software developers bosses, the application architects, business analysts and even the CIOs who are taking a strong interest in SOA, which is being heavily promoted not just by BEA, but by the likes of IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems.
With this new technology initiative, it doesnt matter whether WebLogic or the application servers from IBM, Oracle and Apache become increasingly commoditized. Thats because corporate IT departments are interested in investing in SOA technology because it promises to provide greater integration for the data assets and systems they already own.
IT managers are counting on SOA to let them use Web service technology to access data assets across multiple databases used by different corporate departments and divisions. BEA claims that SOA has the potential to “overcome a multibillion-dollar problem of integrating different types of systems and respond faster to the pace of modern business.”
But this all sounds too familiar. It seems the same promises were made when Java 2 Enterprise Edition and the Web services concept were first introduced. Every new wave of IT technology promises to make it easier for heterogeneous computer systems to share information, while greatly simplifying the software production process and slashing IT expenses.
SOA might actually deliver these promised gains in data accessibility. But the key will be for BEA and the rest of these industry powerhouses to deliver real products that IT departments can productively deploy over the next couple of years.
The AquaLogic product line is a good initiative for BEA because it is moving into a “large sustainable market” that is going to grow for years to come, said Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink LLC, an IT analysis and consulting firm that specializes in Web services and SOA. In its announcement Thursday, BEA cited IDC estimates that sales of SOA-related software products will grow to more than $9 billion with a compound annual growth rate of 75 percent.
Its an important development, Schmelzer said, that BEA is able to branch out to tell its AquaLogic story to application architects and business strategists, not just to the Java developers. “It is good for them in the long term to be trying to focus on the people who are trying to build heterogeneous systems,” Schmelzer said, because this is where the most potential growth and customer benefits are going to come from.
As for the latest Oracle buyout latest rumor, Schmelzer says it doesnt seem credible because Oracle has yet to articulate its own coherent SOA strategy, even as it has acquired companies that might provide components of such a strategy.
“Oracle has been known to make aggressive offers,” even in the face of indifference and hostility from its buyout targets, Schmelzer noted. “But I think [an Oracle buyout] would be a mistake” because BEAs technology “will just get lost” in the maze of Oracles product line, he said.
“Who knows what Oracles SOA strategy is? It looks like they bought a bunch of stuff and are slapping it together,” he said. Its as if Oracle is “hoping that if they acquire enough stuff if will form itself into some kind of strategy,” Schmelzer said.
Regardless of this gratuitous distraction, with its Liquid Assets strategy BEA is exerting a sustained effort to extend its product line in ways that will ensure that it wont be mistaken for just another application server vendor.
John Pallatto is a veteran journalist in the field of enterprise software and Internet technology. He can be reached at [email protected]