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Q&A: BEA CTO Scott Dietzen

BEA Systems was one of the first companies to adopt Web services. Through its WebLogic platform, the San Jose, Calif.-based firm has even taken IBM down a peg or two.

Customers are clearly responding to BEA's approach. According to a recent Gartner report, BEA's WebLogic Portal has grown to become a leader in the enterprise portal server market.

However, since losing the title of "Java application server software" leader recently, the brains behind BEA have been focusing on its partners to pull the company out of its funk. The five-year with Big Blue was highlighted when BEA inked a deal with Hewlett-Packard as well as Salesforce. com on its new "sforce" initiative.

CTO Scott Dietzen has been at the forefront of the battle, working on Internet application infrastructure for the past decade. Dietzen came to BEA via the acquisition of WebLogic. Prior to that, he was the principal technologist for Transarc. He holds a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University.

Internetnews.com sat down with Dietzen to find out more about BEA's long-term strategy.

Q: These days so much is made about the importance of Web services.What are you bringing to the table?

The overall mission is to turn the Web into an integration platform. Web technology's been very successful today, but the value proposition is all about user interface whether it's with data or a business application and make it accessible. We, along with Microsoft and IBM, were the big winners in Web application platform technology in the first generation. And as we looked at how we could grow our value proposition, we said, "What is the thorniest problem that developers and programmers have to deal with?" It's the complexity and ugliness of dealing with application integration tasks, whether it's behind the firewall EAI [Enterprise Application Integration] or off to other businesses with B2B.

Q: What problems are you trying to solve?

The technologies to date have been hugely proprietary. They're hard to use they're not well integrated. The typical scenario is you have one transformation tool; one Web services tool, one workflow tool, one adaptor tool and separate programming tools and user interface tools. So, the first thing the integration developer has to do is learn all of these different environments, build various piece parts and then try to figure out how to integrate them together. The vendors haven't even delivered on integrating their own tool sets for integration let alone integrating what the customer is trying to integrate. So the Web services value proposition is really about extending the Web platform to enable integration. We're commoditizing a lot of the value of message brokering technology directly into the Web container. The industry has started with XML, SOAP and WSDL and developers are familiar with those. It's the next-generation technologies that are going to get us to the critical mass.

Q: To the critical mass? Which ones do you have in mind?

Critical mass for the Web was HTML, HTTP, SSL and URI. Those four have created something much larger. I think in addition to XML Schema, SOAP and WSDL, we now have Web Services Security. We're shipping it. Microsoft is shipping it for doing interoperability work between those two containers. But the one I'm most excited about is Web Services Reliable messaging. This is "application to application" messaging for Web services that gives you guaranteed delivery for an order or a trade even as it crosses Internet technologies. So the same quality of service you get for MQ Series or TIBCO you will be able to get from Web Services.

There is also WS Addressing, which allows for asynchronous Web services and WS Policy, which is a metadata model for capturing quality of service or security or other information about Web services -- richer than UDDI. UDDI has been one of the disappointments in the Web services stack in terms of its adoption.

Q: Why?

I took an informal survey of our highest-end customers. We had our top 50 or top 40 end users in a user group together and I was astonished that all of them claimed they had transactional Web services in production and 60 to 70 percent had transactional Web services running between .NET and WebLogic in production. The VUDDI adoption was much less People were basically using URIs and URLs as their model for locating and binding into Web services.

Q: What does that say about Web services as a whole?

It means we still have more work to do in the vendor community. I think it's also clear that UDDI has been oversold.

Q: Isn't BEA working on a few of Web services standards of its own?

At the higher layers of the Web services stack there is something called XMLbeans that we've developed. It is not a standard yet but we are making it available via open source. It is a much easier way manipulating XML that preserves loose coupling and gives you a very easy access model. If somebody changes the schema, the binding that you use will almost certainly continue to work. Whereas, if you are groveling over a dom tree directly, that makes for fragile programming. We all tout loose coupling as a benefit of Web services, but the challenge is you don't get this by accident; you have to design for it.

Along the same lines and also just as exciting is something called XML Query or X-Query for short. This is a W3C standard that BEA has been driving along with Microsoft and IBM. We're convinced it will be SQL for XML. It's that level of ease of use. It's much more efficient than XSLT and it should replace the need for proprietary transformation and aggregation technologies in XML.

Q: It sounds like BEA, Microsoft and IBM are doing the lion's share of the work.

We're allied with Microsoft and IBM on the protocols and with IBM on the programming. The three of us are doing the work around creating a standards based platform for user interface, portal, integration and so on.

Q: Comment on your other partnerships -- HP, Intel, CapGemini, and especially Sun. Which would you rank as your top collaborating partner in crime?

On the hardware side worldwide Intel, HP, Sun and Dell rates in the Top 10. Dell has done a lot of work replacing WebSphere with WebLogic in their go-to market practice and their production environment as well, which has been gratifying. Not surprisingly all of those vendors compete with IBM for hardware and being a strong go-to market partner, we can offer them a competitive leverage against WebSphere. That is one of the big motivators in his partnership is this strong competition between IBM and us which ends up elping our customers. The critical thing for us is that we're quite a bit smaller company than IBM or Microsoft. So our challenge is making sure we get invited to the party. These partnerships are key because we don't have the kind of coverage that IBM has in the field. But when you add up our systems integration and our hardware partners, we actually think we have much broader coverage than IBM.

Q: BEA and IBM have gone back and forth as the leader in Java distributions. What do you do to get in front?

We are quite prepared to concede that BEA and IBM have been winning market share from the other server side Java platforms. No one really knows in terms of revenues who is driving greater server side revenues between BEA and IBM. Everyone agrees we are winning market share relative to the others, but how our teams stack in the marketplace is murky. IBM's financial reporting is murky enough. WebSphere includes MQ Series. We don't include our Tuxedo revenues in WebLogic. It's really an apples-to-turnips comparison. This competition will continue. They seem quite prepared to see us as their main competitor and co-market leader in several areas.

Q: With your development tools like WebLogic Workshop (now in version 8.1), are you trying to simplify the process for less tech-savvy people or are you making more things standard?

The reality is that there has always been five times as many business programmers as there are system programmers. There are many more Cobalt, VB power builders developers than there are CORBA, J2EE, distributed object developers because business programming is easier than systems programming -- hard things possible, simple things simple. You have to have both contracts. The business programmers do not want to learn distributed objects and the distributed objects guys need the power of distributed objects to do the things they do.

Q: Finally, Larry Ellison has said he is still looking to acquire another software player beyond PeopleSoft. Can you comment on any plans the company may have to merge with or be acquired by Oracle?

We don't comment on any rumors and those rumors have been circulating for such a long time. We think the Web platform space is the best growth opportunity and BEA is the last pure-play in that space. We stand to grow with that market.