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Building on a Stable Foundation

Building on a Stable Foundation

The editors of WebLogic Developer's Journal recently sat down with Olivier Helleboid, BEA's President of Products, to talk about WebLogic's direction in 2003

WLDJ: Tell us about your role as the new president of products.
Olivier Helleboid: I am responsible for all product development activity at BEA. That means the engineering and product management teams, and leading the product strategy and the definition of the future product from development to general availability. That's true for all the WebLogic products and Tuxedo - the entire BEA product family.

WLDJ: What was your background before joining BEA and why this role?
OH: I've been in the enterprise computing industry for roughly 25 years; in that time, I spent about 18 years at Hewlett-Packard in a variety of roles in the networking space and the server area. During my last four years at HP I managed the HP OpenView software business and its business in the enterprise management space. That group generated about $1 billion for HP in my last year with the company. After that I was president and CEO of RainFinity, a start-up company that provides high availability clustering software for network devices.

What really attracted me to BEA was its tremendous position in the marketplace, its number one position in the application server space, and its strategy for leadership in the whole enterprise application infrastructure area. This is a tremendous opportunity to lead BEA to the next wave.

WLDJ: How do you find new features and products that you want to incorporate into the BEA product stack?
OH: As we spend a lot of time and resources developing new products, it is absolutely vital to make sure that those new products are tied to what our customers want. There are a number of processes. The major one is that our product managers spend a lot of time with customers and partners, ISVs, and system integrators to get their feedback. New ideas for innovations also come from the engineers themselves, and discussions with industry analysts also generate new products. A good example is BEA Liquid Data for WebLogic, which is a completely unique product for data integration; that idea came from some internal engineering teams. Overall, it's a combination of gathering customer input, really understanding where the customer pain points are, and always looking for ways to innovate from a technical perspective.

WLDJ: What announcements are you making at BEA eWorld ?
OH: The eWorld theme is around convergence. That represents what we see happening in the industry right now. Customers' requirements and enterprise computing are converging, especially in the application infrastructure space between development and integration. BEA's overall strategy is to deliver a unique WebLogic Platform that helps customers build, integrate, and extend their software applications in the enterprise. It brings together the notion of developing an application with the idea of integrating with your existing products.

We have a very strong set of new products across all elements of the WebLogic Platform to deliver on this notion of convergence, of helping customers do application development and integration in a single environment.

WLDJ: Would you say that BEA is heading more towards development products or administration and management solutions?
OH: Both. BEA's strength has been around development and deployment. This is really to help customers develop new applications, integrate with their existing environments, and then deploy these new applications in their environment. That's the core of our business today. As we look into the future, we are definitely going to move into areas around the operations side - for example, security. The last release of WebLogic Server included a new security framework that allows customers to more easily manage the security of their applications. Customers really want an integrated solution, a platform that deals with the whole life cycle - developing the application, integrating it with their existing environment, deploying it, rolling it out, and then maintaining it, managing it, doing the updates, keeping it current, etc. That's what we are offering.

WLDJ: What do you think about BEA's products regarding ease of use versus extensibility and how are you balancing them?
OH: BEA made a huge leap forward this past year when we introduced WebLogic Workshop. We provide enterprise application infrastructure, and by its very nature it's a pretty complex area. When you look at enterprise environments, they have many, many applications from many different vendors, many different technologies, different hardware operating systems. We have to make things simpler for our customers because just adding to the complexity won't help them. The goal of many of our solutions is to help customers develop new applications more easily and faster than previously possible, and WebLogic Workshop plays a big role in that. A number of studies have shown that by using WebLogic tools you can develop applications much faster in a much smaller number of steps than with alternative solutions. The traditional BEA WebLogic application server also has proven to be very fast to implement. One of our customers is Toshiba; they deployed a portal solution to 15,000 dealers in North America. From start to finish it took them 16 weeks to implement a fairly complicated, large-scale application that connects into their back-end system. Again, we are talking just weeks to deploy applications to make it easier. We sometimes talk about our value proposition as 'Enterprise Made Easy'; we recognize that we are in a complex environment; we need to invest to make it simpler and faster to deploy applications in that environment.

WLDJ: We've talked about simpler and faster. What advantages aside from those do you see BEA's Web services stack having over WebSphere?
OH: Our products are designed to be loosely coupled and work well together, and the whole WebLogic platform is built on our application server. We have a common WebLogic application server as the deployment engine for all of our solutions. WebSphere has many different application server environments that don't work together. We have an integration solution that works with WebLogic Integration, WebLogic Portal, and Liquid Data, all of which have a common deployment environment. WebLogic Workshop sits on top of that and integrates it into a single development environment. That's one of the major benefits to the customer: products that are designed and built to work together out of the box mean ease of use and ease of deployment for customers.

Another big advantage we have over WebSphere is being ahead in new technologies. Take standards as an example; we're 18 months to 2 years ahead in delivering the latest releases supporting the latest versions of J2EE. We keep on releasing new innovations, such as WebLogic Workshop and Liquid Data, ahead of WebSphere. Another thing that also works in our favor is our industry partnerships with ISVs.

WLDJ: What about Oracle's offering?
OH: In the application server area, we don't see them. From our perspective, BEA is the market leader in the app server market. It will be hard for Oracle to break into the app server market in a meaningful way. The other big thing, as you know, is that the industry is now evolving beyond the app server and is really delivering a platform. We have the WebLogic Platform with WebLogic Workshop and WebLogic Integration and everything else in that area. We really have the market share, the customer base to prove that. Oracle is in the database space and that's where we see them, in terms of interconnecting with Oracle databases.

WLDJ: A lot of vendors are developing and marketing solutions around the BEA WebLogic platform. Borland ships an IDE that integrates nicely with WebLogic. Systinet has a Web services framework, and companies like Alignment Software and Precise Software are building management and performance-monitoring solutions for WebLogic. How does BEA work with these vendors when you could just as easily release a similar solution that would affect their business?
OH: Those vendors and those partnerships are very important to us. Obviously, our strength is in putting out this application infrastructure for others to build solutions on. These partners are building applications either in vertical spaces - financial, for example, or transportation - or horizontal applications - customer relationship management or security. They allow our end users to have a much richer set of functionality that is ready for use on the WebLogic Platform. We want to do everything we can to make it easier and faster for our partners to develop on WebLogic and to release new products on it. We have a sizeable team, and a set of programs in sales, marketing, and development to help those partners develop and deploy solutions. We have a standard API and tools documentation and training support for partners, so they can build on WebLogic, whether it's a portlet or a portal solution, or a control for WebLogic Workshop. We want to make sure that's all built in, whether it's also adapters for WebLogic Integration, so they can stay up to date - we can help them do that.

WLDJ: A lot of your products are downloadable for free for a trial basis. Why is this important for the developer community?
OH: It helps to make it easier and faster. In many cases, developers want to try new releases as early as possible and see what's changed and what they have to change in their product to tie into this new release. It gives developers an early view in terms of what they can work with. That works both for the existing developers to stay up-to-date with us and it allows us to attract new developers so that they can try our software and see the benefits of it, see what they can do around it, without having to commit to anything financially. It's a very powerful tool. We have a very strong program that I'm sure that you're familiar with, dev2dev (see WebLogic Developer's Journal, Vol. 2, issue 1).

We work with more than 500,000 developers within that whole program with training, not just the free trial. It's the training seminars, user groups, and a lot of resources that they have available just to make them more comfortable and more expert in working with our software.

WLDJ: Let's talk about the Java Community Process.
OH: That's another thing that BEA is very involved with. The role we have around standards is not just that of adopting and building into a product, it's really a leadership role of driving innovation and driving the definition of new standards. In a number of cases, our engineers have come up with new technical solutions for easier development and then brought that innovation to the JCP in the form of JSRs, worked with other vendors to make it broad enough and adopted, and then the whole community - vendors and developers - can leverage that standard. This work is very important for us because, as you know, BEA is built on standards. Having a proprietary interface doesn't work for us. Our products and architecture are based on an open standards-based approach, so that we can get the broadest adoption of our technology across the industry.

WLDJ: BEA is known particularly for the standards issue. What about open source?
OH: Open source is another interesting area. We have incorporated a number of open-source products and components into our products - Apache is one example. It's something that we believe in and participate in. A number of BEA employees are connected with that community and provide feedback to some of the proposals that are made there. We are currently looking at submitting some of our technology to the open-source space in the next year.

WLDJ: Is there anything else you'd like to mention?
OH: I'd like to reinforce that BEA is in a leadership position. BEA has been very strong in the application server market and in the development of standards-based applications around Java. What we are doing now is adding to that with this notion of convergence - of developing and integrating applications around a single platform based on standards. That's really the big evolution for WebLogic and for BEA - to go from being number one in the application server market to being number one in the application infrastructure market. Industry analyst firm Gartner calls it the application platform suite market. From a developer perspective, we are giving them one unique environment where they can develop and code an application, but also connect to SAP or Oracle or whatever applications are there, and build a portal to extend with third-party security components or Borland tools and so on, all in a single environment running on a single app server. That's totally unique in the industry and BEA is leading that. I think developers will find that's going to make their lives much, much easier.

More Stories By WebLogic News Desk

WLDJ News Desk trawls the world of e-commerce technologies for news and innovations and presents IT professionals with updates on WebLogic related technology trends, products, and services.

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