BEA thinks simple with WebLogic revamp

The software company plans to ease the administration of Java-based applications with the next version of its flagship WebLogic line, due next year.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
4 min read
BEA Systems is hoping to simplify the management of Java software with an upcoming release of its WebLogic product, underscoring a broader industry push to lower the cost of managing applications.

The company's WebLogic 9.0 application server software is being designed so that businesses can see how well their Java business applications are performing, and quickly spot and fix problems, said Benjamin Renaud, deputy chief technology officer at BEA.

WebLogic 9.0 will also add better Extensible Markup Language (XML) messaging capabilities for sharing information, and will support the most recent XML-based Web services specifications ratified by standards organizations, Renaud said.

BEA's WebLogic application server is based on the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) standard, used to build and implement custom business applications. In August of this year, company CEO Alfred Chuang said WebLogic 9.0 would be completed in 12 to 18 months, or the latter half of 2004.

BEA is the No. 2 maker of application server software, behind IBM. The company's focus on simplifying application management reflects growing demand among customers for business applications that are cheaper to maintain, analysts said. Businesses typically allocate well over half of their information technology budgets to maintaining existing applications.

"We're going from this cauldron of running applications where you have no idea of what's going on, to a better laid-out, more controllable environment," Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler said.

Schadler said cost-conscious business customers are requesting better tools for managing their information systems in order to understand patterns in usage and cost of operations.

Better management, and lowering of operating costs, "will continue to be more important because people will not spend more on things. CIOs better save money on operational costs if they want to spend more money on new applications (in the future)," Schadler said.

BEA competitors are also looking to augment their software with better management tools.

IBM is building in closer ties between its WebSphere Java server and its Tivoli systems management line. And Microsoft has launched its Dynamic Systems Initiative, which will make it easier for Windows applications to feed operational information to its management console.

These built-in management features are designed to give companies a better sense of whether systems are meeting performance goals and to help spot glitches. With the industry coalescing around a few management standards, such as Web services management, application server companies can now more easily share application performance information with customers' existing management tools, analysts said.

"The trend in the industry is that there will be a level of manageability built into the core platforms," said Al Smith, chief technology officer for Hewlett Packard's Web services management products. "SAP, PeopleSoft, Microsoft and BEA are all getting appropriate customer pressure saying, 'Hey, you should manage the lifecycle of your platform and the things running on it.'"

New checklist item
Improved management could be an important selling point, or checklist item, that all software makers will need to have in the ongoing battle for market dominance in the multibillion-dollar Java application server market.

In 2002, BEA lost the top spot in the Java application server market to IBM's WebSphere product line, according to research from Gartner Dataquest. IBM is planning a major revision of WebSphere for delivery in the middle of next year that it said will make its Java server software more modular and easier to implement.

Oracle and Sun Microsystems, too, are looking to take share in the high-ticket Java server software market. Oracle, which does not break out revenue for its application server business, shipped its Oracle Application Server 10g earlier this month and said it has over 17,000 application server customers. BEA has about 15,000 customers, according to the company.

This summer, BEA delivered WebLogic Platform 8.1, which included a significant overhaul of the accompany development environment. The company constructed a visual programming tool, called WebLogic Workshop, designed to speed up the process of building industrial-strength Java applications and make it simpler to write code to integrate business applications.

In the new release of WebLogic, BEA will streamline the administration process and make people who manage running WebLogic applications more productive, Renaud said. "With WebLogic 8.1, we nailed ease of use on the developer side. With 9.0, we aim to do the same for administration and management," Renaud said.

The administration enhancements will include wizards and a system to set up rules to automate administration and delegate tasks among people, Renaud said.

"By very quickly narrowing down what a problem is, designing a fix and deploying it without disturbing the rest of the application, that will lower the cost of administration a great deal," Renaud said

BEA's management push is not intended to displace tools from existing systems management companies, Renaud said. Instead, BEA will share increasingly more detailed information on application performance and levels of service with these software packages, Renaud said.

In the area of utility computing, for example, BEA is building in support for the Data Center Markup Language standard for sharing operational information. To report how applications are functioning, BEA is partnering with business intelligence companies to ensure that WebLogic operations can be viewed by mainstream analytical tools, Renaud said.

The improved administrative tools within WebLogic should benefit not only network administrators but also developers and testers that need to implement and gauge the performance of WebLogic applications, he said.

BEA is also trying to improve security administration in WebLogic. The company in October introduced WebLogic Enterprise Security, a software package for enforcing network access privileges to employees and business partners.