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BEA gears up for runtime SOA

Beefed-up throughput and hot swappable applications highlight BEA Systems Inc.'s push to build out an enterprise-class runtime for Web services.

Santa Clara, Calif. -- At its annual users' conference, BEA Systems Inc. unveiled a Real Time Edition of its WebLogic application server and a WebLogic server enterprise-grade kernel, which creates a zero downtime environment, attempting to give service-oriented architecture more runtime muscle.

It dovetails nicely with the overall message of the BEAWorld event, namely that SOA is ready to get off the drawing board and into the nitty-gritty of daily business. During his morning keynote session, company CEO Alfred Chuang demonstrated the new hot swappable application feature and stressed that hardware-style speed and quality of service are key to supporting the "supremely reliable" Web services customers demand.

Imagine changing the engine of a racecar during the race, that's essentially what we're doing
Alfred Chuang
CEOBEA Systems Inc.

"These things are becoming truly ready for prime time," he said.

Chuang pointed to the Voice over IP revolution as part of the driver for the raised expectations. If IP networks can reliably handle phone calls, then why shouldn't applications enjoy that same reliability?

"The expectation level is becoming that it should be mission critical," he said.

He called the hot swappable functionality "the biggest innovation in information software in a long time," adding that the telecommunications standard of five nines of reliability was now a reasonable goal inside an SOA.

"Imagine changing the engine of a racecar during the race, that's essentially what we're doing," Chuang said.

The enterprise kernel provides load balancing, caching, server migration and failover within and across clusters to create the zero downtime environment.

The WebLogic Real Time Edition marries the JRockit high performance Java virtual machine to the company's application server. Optimized to run on Intel platforms, BEA trotted out benchmarks to pitch it as a leap forward in performance and scalability.

Shane Pearson, BEA's vice president for platform product management, explained that the Real Time Edition looks to match the tight latency requirements in the networking space.

"The problem with Java is it sometimes needs to take a timeout," he said. "We've been able to add some deterministic garbage collection to get around that."

IDC analyst Sandra Rogers praised BEA for having "a pragmatic view about SOA and the rate of adoption." She said many would-be users have been waiting on reliable messaging and better transaction throughput before they make deeper SOA commitments.

"The view has been I'd like to do it and if you reach that point, then I'm going talk to you," she said. She added that few vendors have viable offerings for runtime SOA, making it a potential sweet spot if BEA's latest products can deliver as promised.

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Scott Metzger, chief technology officer for TrueCredit, a personal and professional financial services subsidiary of credit reporting agency TransUnion LLC, has been using a germinal form of the Real Time Edition to push credit scoring and payment processing Web services out to his customer base. Prior to deploying the new technology, he said even with better parsers XML still wasn't running fast enough when the services went into production.

"It becomes a much more memory-bound operation when you get into runtime," he said. "We're not running out of CPU capacity. We're running out of memory space."

Yet that memory hogging can create a latency issue which BEA has attempted to engineer around using multithreading techniques.

Also announced on the first day of the show was an agreement with several management vendors to supply more granular application-level detail through WebLogic Server 9.0 and extended support for open source Java frameworks, including Eclipse Web Tools, Apache Beehive and Apache XML Beans.

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