BEA eyes services vision

Paul Krill ist Redakteur unserer US-Schwesterpublikation InfoWorld.

BEA Systems, whose annual revenues have been mired in the US$1 billion range for several years, is forging ahead with efforts to grow through provision of application services infrastructure and SOA.

Toward this end, the company on June 9 plans to herald Project Free Flow, so-called because it is intended to enable free flow of information across business processes, said Bill Roth, vice president of product marketing at BEA and a former Sun Microsystems executive.

Project Free Flow features the company"s upcoming "QuickSilver" enterprise service bus as an intermediary for transforming and routing messages. Security and data integration components also are part of the Free Flow stack, provided by the WebLogic Enterprise Security and Liquid Data products respectively.

"Free Flow is our product offering to help our customers make SOA real," said Roth. Free Flow is intended for heterogeneous environments, able to unify software assets such as SAP and Microsoft .Net systems.

Due this summer, QuickSilver, will route messages such as the sending of an order from a call center to an order management system. It supports technologies such as Web services, FTP, CORBA, Java Message Service, and SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol). A graphical interface will be featured for constructing data transformations. Web services management is included.

As part of Free Flow, Liquid Data will be upgraded in late spring and a new version of WebLogic Enterprise Security is planned for late 2005. BEA may rename all three products in Free Flow on June 9 and eventually may offer the stack as a single package.

"It"s important to understand that our vision around services infrastructure is a long-term, three- to five-year vision," said Roth.

Financially, the company is looking to Project Free Flow and its services strategy to pull it out of financial stagnation. Revenue, while stable in the US$1 billion range, have not grown as much as the company would like, Roth acknowledged. But the company just had its best first quarter ever, with revenues at $281.7 million in what traditionally is a weaker time of the year, he said.

BEA"s services infrastructure plan, featuring governance and service reuse, places the company in a position to grow, said Brenda Michelson, senior vice president and senior consultant analyst at Patricia Seybold Group. "That services infrastructure market is actually bigger market than the application server market," she said. Services infrastructure offers BEA opportunities to sell professional services, Michelson said.

She noted BEA"s license revenue was down while services revenue increased. Professional services revenue for BEA in the first quarter totaled $165.7 million, exceeding license revenues of $116.1 million. License revenues in the same quarter last year were $120.2 million.

"Project Free Flow is a really smart move for BEA," Michelson said. "Many enterprises are now seeing the need for SOA," she added.

BEA with its vision sees an opportunity to fine-tune provision of services in an SOA. BEA"s growth strategy involves taking the lead in application infrastructure and providing new ways of building services.

"We see a new opportunity to develop a service integration layer that allows for the next level of application integration," Roth said. Presently, coarse-grain services are being developed in IT shops for functions such as order fulfillment in e-commerce systems, said Roth. But it is difficult to make these services available, he added.

"There"s a new level of complexity that people are facing and we can make it easier by allowing them to compose the fine-grain services into things that look more like business processes," said Roth.

 Although known as a company built on Java through its WebLogic Server application server, BEA will become less Java-centric through its focus on services infrastructure, Roth said.

"I believe this new layer shows that BEA is willing to move beyond Java and beyond our Java heritage to a set of users who want to configure and compose applications without necessarily writing a lot of code," Roth said.

In addition to its Free Flow plan, BEA is set to emphasize the open source Spring and Hibernate technologies as programming models for object persistence in databases.

"A lot of people view EJB [Enterprise JavaBeans] in its full form as too complex and so there"s a class of developers that needs something a little bit simpler to deal with persistent Java objects," Roth said. Some developers simply want to map "Plain Old Java Objects" to a database record, for example.

Asked about BEA"s plans to feature Spring and Hibernate in WebLogic Server, Roth said the company would have more to say about that in the future.

Although freely available open source application servers have been growing in popularity, BEA does not fear that its bread-and-butter application server will yield to open source alternatives such as what JBoss offers. BEA"s product boasts operational robustness, scalability and reliability not available in the open source offerings, according to Roth.

"People want to pay for operational robustness," Roth said. This is borne out in BEA"s first quarter financial numbers, he said.

Tools-wise, the company plans to issue a preview release of the Eclipse-based version of its WebLogic Workshop development tool in the fall and have it generally available by the end of the year, Roth said.

BEA also is eyeing opportunities in RFID, specifically focusing on application infrastructure that would track RFID events such as inventory management.

Roth also noted that the PeopleSoft acquisition has made rival Oracle a BEA customer, since PeopleSoft human resources applications are built on BEA"s Tuxedo technology. "As a result of the PeopleSoft acquisition, one of our largest ISV customers is Oracle and we"re pleased to have them as a customer," Roth said. There has been speculation that BEA might be a takeover target of Oracle.