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Oracle's SOA market play for BEA Systems

The competitive drive not to allow IBM to run away with the SOA pie gives Oracle a legitimate reason to acquire BEA Systems even if they have significant product overlap.

Chances are you've heard by now that Oracle Corp. has put in a $6.6 billion bid to buy BEA Systems Inc. We've got a full blown story on it coming today that will delve into the service-oriented architecture ramifications of this move and we'll have numerous follow ups as events unfold.

Yet, for the moment, let's look squarely at the reasons why Oracle might want to take this leap. Dana Gardner has already posted an incisive look into the deal. A lot of what he says jibes with the responses in our recent reader survey.

First and foremost is the Big Blue specter looming behind this deal. IBM gets SOA. It flexed its muscles with its massive Impact conference, focused solely on SOA, this Spring, where it spent four solid days touting "business-driven computing" to an assemblage of thousands.

Combine that with a story we ran last week in which industry observers noted that SOA is the thing that will let you use a whole host of hot new technologies and then you begin to see why Oracle's taking this step. It doesn't want to be a game piece on IBM's chessboard.

Of 195 non-software business user company respondents in our survey, 25.1% named IBM WebSphere as their main SOA/Web services platform. Microsoft's .NET was second at 14.9% and then Apache, BEA, SAP, Sun and Oracle, in that order, came in around the 5-7% range. Obviously those numbers aren't necessarily gospel, but they do confirm what we see time and again in these sorts of surveys: IBM's way out front of the pack on SOA. Microsoft's lone wolf approach to service-orientation hasn't captured much of the market compared to its Java competitors and nobody has been able to emerge yet from the large pile of everyone else.

Yet if Oracle absorbs BEA, it would be neck and neck with Microsoft and poised to challenge Big Blue in the areas of integration and software infrastructure. As Gardner noted, that would put a ton pressure on SAP, which directly competes with Oracle in enterprise applications as well as in application development. The last thing SAP wants is to have to try to sell business applications to users running on an Oracle platform.

While there's massive overlap between BEA's offering and Oracle's Fusion line, BEA does have three particular strengths that Oracle might be looking to leverage: data services, internal portals and external transactions. Those were the three most popular types of service-based applications our users reported they are either working on or plan on undertaking in the next year. Even more importantly, the demand for these types of applications increased sharply with respondents who reported their companies had achieved some measure of architectural maturity. In other words, the farther along users are with SOA, the more important those projects are likely to become.

BEA has its AquaLogic Data Services Platform, it has its WebLogic Portal product as well as the portal functionality it acquired when it bought Plumtree Software in 2005, and it has the Tuxedo transactional business on which it built itself. So the BEA goose might be sitting on a few golden eggs … and that's not a bad pet for a would-be giant to have.

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