Is BEA Systems Digging Itself Into a Hole?

BEA Systems might be the smartest company in the world, but it's going to have to do some justifying this year

BEA Systems might be the smartest company in the world, but its going to have to do some justifying this year. Thats because its now facing the big guns, which are heavily armed.

BEA thinks it has no competitors. It thinks Oracle is a bunch of schmoes who happen to own a leading database platform. It thinks IBMs WebSphere is weak competition at best. It doesnt care about Sun.

In fact, if the bantering between Larry Ellison of Oracle and Bill Coleman of BEA at JavaOne is any indication, BEA has become so arrogant its trying to outOracle Oracle. Bad move. No one outdoes Oracle.

BEA has been one of the most opportunistic, luckiest companies of the last decade. Once a distributor of Novells Tuxedo, it basically stole the TP monitor from the inept company and turned it into a powerhouse platform. BEA quickly struck deals to buy top-rate object broker technology, NCRs Top End TP monitor and WebLogic, an early application server company that competed with NetDynamics, Kiva and Oracle Application Server.

Sun shot itself in the foot when it killed NetDynamics. Netscape bought Kiva; Oracle Application Server was a memory hog mired in failures; and IBMs WebSphere went through at least three "beta" iterations before it became a prime-time product. The result? BEA became the envy of the high-tech world.

But that world has changed. Each of the big system vendors now has technology that competes with BEAs. IBMs WebSphere now works, and its always priced 20 percent less than BEAs alternative. Meanwhile, HP, once a BEA partner, purchased Bluestone, and the company is giving away technology such as Core Services Framework and HP Internet Server, while BEA still thinks it has to charge for technology.

So BEA is being forced up the food chain. Its offering additional services and working hard to strike deals with more application providers. In fact, in the last month, Autonomy, Resonate, Bowstreet and Contivo all signed up.

But BEAs new services are edging into the territory of the application vendors its trying to sell to. Competing with ones customers happens all the time, but its rarely successful in the long run.