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Will Quicksilver shine for BEA?

Despite internal tumult, the firm is forging ahead with an upgrade for its flagship server software.

Despite internal tumult, BEA Systems is forging ahead with a plan to upgrade its flagship server software and introduce new integration tools meant to expand the company's customer base.

By the end of January, BEA expects to deliver a test version of a product code-named Quicksilver, which will combine standards-based integration software and Web services management tools. Quicksilver will be part of the new version of BEA's WebLogic Platform Java server software suite, code-named Diamond, which will also go into testing by the end of January and be completed later in 2005.

BEA's infrastructure software, or middleware, and development tools are used to build and run business applications written in Java.

BEA is betting on Quicksilver and Diamond, which is likely to be called WebLogic Platform 9.0, to help boost the company's fortunes. After meeting its financial targets through most of the economic downturn of the past three years, BEA has seen its license revenue slip in the past two quarters and a number of technology and marketing executives leave. Its stock price, which was more than $14 about a year ago, has dipped to about $7.50.

Industry analysts have speculated that the company, which took in about $1 billion in revenue last year, could be a target for a takeover by a larger entity, such as Oracle. BEA has insisted that it would prefer to remain independent and grow organically.

The company's vice president of product strategy and management, Vittorio Viarengo, on Monday detailed a road map for the upcoming features in Quicksilver and Diamond. He said the departures of high-profile technology gurus Adam Bosworth and Scott Dietzen have not greatly disrupted the engineering team for BEA's bread-and-butter product development tools.

Two of the main design priorities for Diamond are to simplify the management of applications, once they are deployed, and to make the WebLogic application server more reliable, Viarengo said. IBM, which is BEA's largest competitor, has also singled out reliability and better administration in its own product update, WebSphere 6 Application Server, which is due out by the end of the year.

BEA is marketing WebLogic Platform as an important building block for a services-oriented architecture, or SOA, a way of designing and running applications that allows companies to use a single program in different scenarios. For example, a company could develop an application for checking the status of a purchase order. A number of different programs, such as a manufacturing system or a customer service application, could tap into that purchase order program, potentially saving development time.

Industry analysts predict that corporate customers will move to a services-oriented architecture over the next few years. Competition among potential providers of SOA infrastructure software has heated up among IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, as well as smaller specialized companies. Open-source application server providers, notably JBoss, are also challenging BEA's business, according to analysts.

A major improvement in the core WebLogic software is Quicksilver, which provides a way to send data via messages between applications using standard protocols. Web services applications, considered the foundation of modern services-oriented architectures, are designed for sending messages between systems, rather than hard-coding connections.

As previously reported, Quicksilver will introduce a console that application administrators can use to configure links between applications. Quicksilver will use Web services protocols, such as WS-Reliable Messaging, to send data and be able tap into existing messaging systems.


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The Quicksilver server will act like a "traffic cop" and pass data between systems, Viarengo said. It will also provide additional services, such as translating different document formats and enforcing security policies.

A key goal with Quicksilver is to allow customers to help administrators who maintain applications specifically to make them more productive with configuration tools. Until now, BEA's primary focus has been selling to high-level IT executives and appealing to Java programmers.

"Twenty percent of an application is development, and the rest is keeping it up and running," said Viarengo, who noted that SOAs should allow people to modify programs regularly. "We are stepping up to address more people."

Quicksilver will be built into BEA's application server, and BEA is considering selling it as a stand-alone integration server, Viarengo said.

The application server will also add features to ensure that individual programs, or "services," do not suffer outages, Viarengo said. With BEA's next application server, customers will be able to test new programs and install patches across a cluster of servers without having to restart the server software, he said.

BEA's existing integration software, called WebLogic Integration, will be upgraded in the Diamond release with support for the Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), a standardized way to automate multistep business processes.