December 13, 2002 6:59 AM PST

BEA rethinks its WebLogic software

BEA Systems will seek to reposition its WebLogic line as a Swiss Army knife for business software development when it launches a major upgrade to its flagship products in the first half of next year.

Code-named Gibraltar, the upcoming version of WebLogic is intended to strengthen the application integration and portal features of the company's Java application server and integrate closely with BEA's development tool, WebLogic Workshop. BEA and IBM are battling for the top spot in the market for Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) application servers, which let companies build Web-based business software.

The key goals of the Gibraltar upgrade are to combine application development with application integration and to bind together BEA's different WebLogic modules, including its portal, application integration broker, Workshop development tool and Liquid Data data access software, said Olivier Helleboid, president of BEA's products division.

"We are trying to provide one place where the developer can work at the business process level and integrate their own things with third-party tools and applications," he said Thursday. "Our vision is to be a workshop for integration that takes a business process management approach."

A developer, Helleboid said, will be able to write code for a Web services application within WebLogic Workshop and more easily tie other software resources into the application, such as information from a content management system or an Oracle database.

BEA muscled into the market for development tools in March with the introduction of WebLogic Workshop, which is intended to simplify the creation of Web services applications.

BEA will extend the second version of the Workshop software, also due in the first half of 2003, to create applications that will work with BEA's various WebLogic modules, Helleboid said. The Workshop upgrade will also offer support for the latest Web services standards, SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language) and, if it is finalized, WS-Security (Web Services Security), he said. BEA intends to eventually incorporate BPEL4WS (Business Process Execution Language for Web Services) into WebLogic Workshop as well.

Gaining the loyalty of application developers is critically important to vendors of Java application server such as BEA and IBM, as well as to other software companies like Microsoft. Once built and installed, business applications can drive further sales of operating systems and application servers as companies tend to standardize on a particular vendor's products.

"If developers don't have good tools, they're not going to commit to that platform. The switching costs are very low," said Joshua Walker, an analyst at Forrester Research. "These companies have these really high-end application servers that run like race cars, but the problem is that people aren't driving them that much."

Although BEA is well established with large companies that have complex computing needs, it still faces stiff competition in the server software arena. By introducing tools to make it easier to create applications for WebLogic, BEA hopes to expand its base of customers.

"They carved out their territory at the high end but there's a backlash against that. That's where this Swiss Army knife approach comes into play," said Walker. "Right now they need an overwhelming technology advantage to convince buyers not to go with IBM."

With the added features to its server, such as a portal and integration middleware, BEA is seeking to differentiate itself from other J2EE vendors, such as IBM and Sun Microsystems. The company is also investigating adding "change management" features to WebLogic to help system administrators deploy and manage different software versions.

BEA's efforts to introduce add-on applications to its server software mirror the industry trend toward what research firm Gartner calls "application platform suites." A recent research note from Gartner noted that Java application server vendors, including BEA, IBM, Sybase, Sun, Oracle and Iona Technologies, have bundled integration middleware and portals with their application servers.

 

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