BEA Systems has been positioning itself as much more than an application server vendor for over a year now, but the announcement of the WebLogic Platform 8.1 and associated developer programs this week accelerates the company's transition into the application development heartland upon which its future depends.
Context With the application server business rapidly approaching commodity status following pricing pressure from other industry giants such as Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Sun, as well as open source J2EE app server companies such as Jboss, the pressure is on BEA to expand beyond its core market.
These developments have acted as a catalyst for BEA's broader repositioning into other elements of the middleware infrastructure – particularly the integration, portal and, most recently, the application development space. A year ago, it launched WebLogic Workshop, its first integrated platform aimed at simplifying J2EE and Web Services-based application development and targeted at business-oriented non-Java developers.
Products BEA contends that WebLogic Platform 8.1 is more than a run-of-the-mill incremental upgrade. The platform includes new versions of BEA's application server and integration and portal technologies, but of most interest is the new version of WebLogic Workshop. A new Platform Edition has been specifically designed for building not only enterprise applications and portal initiatives, but also integration projects. BEA contends that application development and integration go hand in hand, and it has designed Workshop to break down the barriers between the disparate development 'silos' that now prevail in most IT departments and ultimately slow application development cycles.
Accordingly, WebLogic Workshop 8.1 is being positioned as a 'unified' development model for process integration, application integration, data integration and portal projects. With a new focus on systems and application developers as well as business users, BEA says the most difficult challenge was to develop a collaborative system that would allow users with vastly different skill sets to work on common development projects.
BEA's answer to this problem is to build a series of extensible Java 'controls,' or smart metadata components that are embedded into Java. This employs a workflow approach to allow different developers to add code in the method that is most suited to their individual role and skill set, including JSP designers, portal developers, data transformation developers, business process management specialists and Web services developers. This approach also promotes component reuse to reduce costs, and also allows third parties to develop custom controls that can be added to development projects.
Partners planning to offer custom controls include Documentum, VeriSign and Informatica, with others in the pipeline that will be marketed by component developer ComponentSource. Workshop 8.1 includes visual JSP and HTTP designers and Java Page Flows to provide graphical, drag-and-drop application development. Workshop 8.1 also includes BEA's XMLBeans technology, allowing developers to access XML data within Java without extensive additional coding. BEA plans to make XMLBeans publicly available.
WebLogic Integration 8.1 has been redesigned to work more closely with Workshop so that developers can add integration capabilities to application development projects. The data transformation component now supports the XML Query standard, and the message broker, business process management and JCA-based adapters that BEA licenses from Information Builders subsidiary iWay can all now be exposed through Workshop.
Additionally, WebLogic Portal 8.1 includes a new rapid development environment based on Workshop; support for the emerging Java portlet standard JSR 168 and the Java content repository standard JSR 170; 'lightweight' content management capabilities; and new federated search, native wireless support and Web integration. BEA claims WebLogic Server 8.1 offers a 30% improvement in scale and transactions, support for the WS-Security implementation and simplified clustering support.
WebLogic Platform 8.1 will enter beta development this week. General availability of WebLogic Server is planned in the spring, with the rest of the platform planned for release sometime in the summer.
Partners A significant part of BEA's plan to establish itself at the heart of the developer community is its dev2dev Subscriptions program, which was formally launched this week. For the first time, BEA is giving away a Trial Edition of the WebLogic Platform free of charge, with a Platform Edition including some technical support selling for $599, and a Tools Edition that includes Borland's Jbuilder for $4,659.
BEA isn't disclosing how many developers it has today -- although we believe this is in the region of 600,000 -- but says it has seen 60% growth in the dev2dev group over recent quarters. In addition to targeting core J2EE developers and existing WebLogic users, BEA is hoping to recruit the Visual Basic or Visual Studio "type" of developers who are more business-oriented, although the company isn't looking to lure Microsoft developers to the Java platform. You still have to learn the Java syntax, but you don't need to understand deep object programming, says BEA.
The 451 assessment
With its primary market fast approaching commodity status, BEA has had to react quickly over recent months to broaden its proposition. Returning to its developer roots makes plenty of sense, and the quality of BEA's technology or its support for standards is not in question. WebLogic Platform 8.1 appears to be a solid improvement over previous versions, but it doesn't set the heart racing and its competitive positioning is often fuzzy. Perhaps BEA should have taken the opportunity at eWorld to talk about some of its more exciting future prospects, such as Liquid Data.
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