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BEA Bets on New Era of Open Computing

BEA Systems' launch of its AquaLogic service-oriented architecture (SOA) family could mean more for the company than a standard foray into distributed computing.

The San Jose, Calif., company proposed a new approach to enterprise computing that, if it is realized, could shatter any claim to "openness" BEA could have possibly made before.

The software maker's Think Liquid brand and AquaLogic family of enterprise service bus (ESB), data services and security components will spark Web services on products from virtually any competitor. This includes software from top guns IBM, Oracle and Microsoft, all of which vie for middleware market share against BEA.

IBM expanded its global No. 1 position in the application integration and middleware market to 37.2 percent while BEA tallied only 7.2 percent, according to Gartner.

This is perhaps why the company's top officials launched the new strategy amid great fanfare at the Nasdaq Marketsite in New York City Thursday. Vendors don't choose the high-profile Nasdaq site unless they have something important to say.

"The AquaLogic family grows BEA beyond just Java to really address services built on every common platform," said BEA CEO Alfred Chuang. "That's a huge departure from where we've come. It not only covers J2EE anymore. We're talking .NET, SAP, Oracle, IBM and legacy systems."

"Our goal is to move IT of the current stage — Stone Age — to really a new age of enterprise liquid computing," he said.

Escaping Vendor Lock-in

BEA plans to make this competitive cooperation its signature for the new products, the company's most significant bet since releasing WebLogic in 1998 and Tuxedo in 1996. Tuxedo is still a popular transaction platform but WebLogic hasn't aged quite as well.

The problem is that WebLogic doesn't offer the interoperability necessary for customers to implement a bona fide SOA, which needs to allow software and services to work on computers regardless of the type of infrastructure or applications an organization has.

WebLogic is too heavily anchored in Java, BEA admitted. But this is symptomatic of the entire high-tech industry, according to Marge Breya, chief marketing officer at BEA. Breya explained that WebLogic and most other software products were created in a different era of enterprise computing, when developers wrote specifically to one operating environment for servers.

"This created a multi-billion dollar lock-in problem," Breya said. "Folks became HP shops, Sun shops, IBM shops, et cetera. We think the same thing is happening at the application layer."

Breya said many companies today are writing custom business logic into the applications themselves, modifying the processes so they're a little bit different than standard implementations of SAP or Siebel.

This leaves two different instantiations of a large ERP or CRM application that can't talk to each other, rendering them data silos akin to impenetrable fortresses. That's a costly proposition for any business.

What corporate customers can expect in the next several months from BEA are products that help them integrate multiple aspects of their business. This includes applications from different vendors, as well as a company's own proprietary systems. Code reuse will be a major asset, provided by AquaLogic Data Services, formerly the successful Liquid Data software.

In short, Breya said BEA is planning to wipe that slate clean with service infrastructure that eliminates silo boundaries.

Squeeze Plays

Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady said BEA's play makes sense in a world where the perception is that they're being squeezed by larger players.

"BEA's attempting to turn that into a strength by emphasizing their lack of conflicting product offerings and ability to work with other players," O'Grady said. "Combine that with a relatively nuanced message around a services infrastructure built on the WebLogic foundation, and it's a solid new campaign for the firm."

ZapThink analyst Ronald Schmelzer, whose research firm scrutinizes XML, Web services and SOAs, said the key is that Java is no longer the center of BEA's world.

"For sure, J2EE will remain core to their "Application Infrastructure" strategy, and WebLogic the main component there, but their focus on Service Infrastructure is keenly focused on heterogeneous SOA, which runs on anybody's platforms," Schmelzer said.

Putting the J2EE bias aside should do wonders for a company stuck behind IBM in the application server market the last few years. Analysts from AMR Research like what they see, touting AquaLogic's technology as being 18 to 24 months of the competition. This is crucial for BEA, which is looking to tap what analysts acknowledge as a multi-billion-dollar SOA market.

If the company succeeds in selling its software for composing, coupling, reusing and securing Web services, along with the daunting task of helping customers tie those services to business processes, it would again be a major force with which IBM, Microsoft and Oracle must reckon.

AquaLogic could also conceivably spark more acquisitions for BEA, which acquired the Tuxedo and WebLogic technologies, fashioning them into some of the most successful parcels of enterprise software the industry has ever seen.

"I think we can definitely expect to see more work (and potentially acquisitions) from BEA to continue to refine those products and become more of a leader, than a follower, in the SOA space," Schmelzer said.