BEA reinvents itself as the 'Switzerland' of SOA

For many years, the phrase "Java application server" was synonymous with BEA’s Weblogic Java 2 Enteprise Edition-based offering.  The company established a significant first-mover advantage in the J2EE space and BEA was one of the darlings of Wall Street.

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For many years, the phrase "Java application server" was synonymous with BEA’s Weblogic Java 2 Enteprise Edition-based offering.  The company established a significant first-mover advantage in the J2EE space and BEA was one of the darlings of Wall Street.  But the competition stiffened and now, although research methodology is always a subject of controversy, IBM leads the J2EE app server market with its J2EE solution: WebSphere.  In an effort to restore its market-leading position, the company today unsheathed a new corporate identity as well as an entire new family of products -- the AquaLogic family --  that BEA hopes will position the software vendor as being less about its bread-and-butter WebLogic and more about a provider of services-oriented solutions that work with any applications server including Microsoft’s .Net.


BEA claims that $200 billion is being wasted on software  infrastructure every year and that, by 2009, there will be a $9 billion market for enterprise service bus-centric (ESB) software designed to drive that cost out of running IT.  According to BEA vice president of product marketing Bill Roth, today's series of announcements are BEA's stake in the ground to go after both the $200 billion problem, and the market that will address it.

As BEA executives were rolling out the news in New York City, I caught up with Roth via Skype. The interview is available as an MP3 that can be downloaded or, if you’re already subscribed to ZDNet’s IT Matters series of audio podcasts, it will show up on your system or MP3 player automatically. (See ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in.)  Roth and I covered a lot of ground in the interview, everything from the details about what it means to "Think liquid" (BEA's new tagline) to the skinny on the new Aqualogic offerings to the pressure, if any, that IBM put on BEA when it acquired open source J2EE provider Gluecode.  We also talked about whether BEA's newly claimed position of industry neutrality means that its culture is more aligned than ever with the equally neutral Borland, so much so that the two companies might finally merge.  Roth wouldn't speculate, but didn't hesitate to drive home whyhe thought BEA's new-found agnosticism makes the company a better partner than IBM.  Said Roth:

We think of ourselves as the uncompromised, or agenda-less, software company. In many ways, I think it's our goal to be the Switzerland of software.  Some of our competitors, in their particular offerings, bring along an agenda, whether it’s an applications agenda, a services agenda, or a hardware agenda. We want to solve the problem of making enterprises work better. Making enterprise IT more simple and more better and faster at lower total cost -- that’s our only agenda.  It has nothing to do with hardware, services, or applications, so I think we can be an honest broker to get all the vendors to work together.  It’s no longer about BEA or IBM.  Or BEA or Microsoft.  It’s becoming a world of BEA and IBM, BEA and Microsoft. 

When asked to describe what sets BEA's solutions apart from those of IBM, Oracle and others, Roth claimed "rigorous focus on standards."  But upon further probing, Roth revealed that the standards -- many of which are Java-related -- were equally supported by other vendors, and that it might be a while before the company's solutions will do for .Net what they're designed to do now for J2EE.  Among the new family of  offerings is BEA's AquaLogic Service Registry, which supports version 3 of an important Web services directory standard known as UDDI.  UDDI was once hailed as the be-all end-all way that users and applications would locate services on the Web, but it has never lived up to that dream. Commenting on the situation, Roth said:

People had the vision that UDDI would be the global yellow pages – a global, federated yellow pages – and that services can be found anywhere on the Internet. I think we’re still five, maybe ten or more years away from that.  The real value of UDDI is for a yellow pages of services inside the enterprise. 

Going back to the issue of driving $200 billion of cost out of running IT, Roth said that most of that cost can be attributed to wasted man-hours.  But if $9 billion of software is going to wipe out $200 billion of man-hours-based cost, then the implication is that someone -- at least a few people -- will lose their


jobs.   During the interview, Roth did make one good recommendation for IT professionals who are looking to to be at the back of the pink slip line: Read the book Enterprise Service Bus by David Chappell. Chappell, who is the vice president and chief technology evangelist at Sonic, is credited with coming up with the idea of an Enterprise Service Bus.