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What Brings the Future?

A new direction

The novel Dune, by Frank Herbert, a classic in science fiction, is littered with great references and quotes. One such quote is: "Knowing there's a trap is the first step in evading it." With this in mind I can't help but think of the future for BEA WebLogic. The trap I refer to is the consolidation of application servers and operating systems to implement application server platforms.

Consider this, at the recent PDC, Microsoft unveiled project Indigo: something that the development community has been crying out for - a .NET Enterprise Edition. Its similarity to J2EE concepts is even more striking than the architectural similarity between .NET and Java! This is no coincidence, and imitation is the greatest form of flattery. However, you have to realize that the framework upon which enterprise applications may be built in the Microsoft space will be part of the operating system itself. Look at IBM and consider their huge Linux play and it isn't difficult to see that they too are entering the same space - where the operating system is the application server. Why buy WebSphere separately from Linux when you can buy a server with IBM hardware, the IBM Linux operating system, and the WebSphere application server as a single solution?

Finally, look at the fathers of J2EE, Sun Microsystems, and their recent announcements around the Java enterprise system in which, you guessed it, a J2EE application server is part of the "new" Solaris.

From this you can only conclude that a consolidation is underway. Are the days of the independent application server numbered? I can't help but think of the bad old days when spell checkers were independent of word processors. They were vital for a word processor to be a "real" word processor and hence evolved over time to being a part of the word processor. Nowadays it is unthinkable to have them separated. In a similar way, today we see an enterprise-class application server as a vital part of the server-side operating system. It isn't much of a leap from that to envisage an application platform, comprised of an operating system + application server.

So where does this leave BEA and WebLogic?

If the future is as I have outlined above, and if it comes to pass in a similar vein to the word processor example, then they could be headed into a trap. However, remembering Herbert's quote, knowing there is a trap is the first step in evading it. There are a number of options that spring to mind in how they could evade it and maybe even increase their market share.

The first is that BEA could innovate strongly in what their application server can offer that others do not, hence increasing its value and making it a compelling purchase on top of the one that comes with the Enterprise OS, be it Microsoft Windows, IBM Linux, or Sun Solaris. Indeed, they have already taken steps into this space with the excellent workflow engine that is provided with BEA WebLogic 8.1. In addition, they have an excellent suite of complementary products such as BEA WebLogic Portal or BEA Liquid Data for WebLogic.

Alternatively they could join in the trend and produce a BEA distribution of Linux that is preconfigured with the WebLogic application server in much the same way that IBM is doing. With BEA's reputation and expertise in building quality products that are easy to use, this could be a valuable innovation for their customers. It would be logical that this platform would be the only one to offer WebLogic JRockit, which is probably the best Java runtime engine there is!

These are but two of many solutions to the potential trap. The bright people at BEA have doubtless discussed many more. My personal opinion is that while there is a threat, and a significant one, the level of innovation and dedication to quality shown by BEA means that they have the right stuff to face up to this threat, and find a way to thrive in spite of it!

More Stories By Laurence Moroney

Laurence Moroney is a senior Technology Evangelist at Microsoft and the author of 'Introducing Microsoft Silverlight' as well as several more books on .NET, J2EE, Web Services and Security. Prior to working for Microsoft, his career spanned many different domains, including interoperability and architecture for financial services systems, airports, casinos and professional sports.

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