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BEA marries application server, middleware

The unified product will give the San Jose, California-based company the ability to compete with IBM, executives hope.

BEA Systems today announced plans to marry its Java-based WebLogic server software with its M3 middleware, forming a single corporate software product.

The unified application server will enable BEA to compete with IBM, the only other vendor with as many features, said Scott Dietzen, chief technology officer for BEA's WebXpress Division.

The unified application server--called BEA WebLogic Enterprise--was part of a slew of announcements the company made in its new strategy to become an enterprise application integration vendor.

M3 is transaction processing software that manages data traffic and ensures that business, such as credit card orders, doesn't get lost. M3 technology combines BEA's Tuxedo middleware, message queuing product, and object request broker technology, and allows large companies to build new distributed applications linked to the Web and to older transactional business systems.

"You have to do sexy Web and Java stuff, but you also have to do transactions, guaranteed messaging, and access to mainframes," Dietzen said. "M3 brings CORBA and messaging and transactions and hardened management into the picture, and WebLogic brings all the Enterprise JavaBean capabilities and Web integration."

San Jose, California-based BEA also announced that it has built off-the-shelf connecting software that allows WebLogic Enterprise application server users to integrate with enterprise resource planning and mainframe products.

The connecting software--called eLinks--includes TCI Software's Mercator product, which accesses the back-end data and automatically converts the information into something readable without having to write additional code. BEA also partnered with InConcert, whose product gives BEA customers a tool for managing workflow for business transactions.

Analysts labeled BEA's announcement was a good move. "The answer is, 'Why not?' It's necessary," said analyst Martin Marshall, of Zona Research.

"People are looking for solutions: the less assembly required the better. They want higher levels of integration," Marshall said.

But analyst Anne Thomas of Patricia Seybold Group took issue with BEA's use of the term "enterprise application integration," or EAI, which historically has meant message query systems that help connect hundreds of applications globally on the corporate network, such as the technology Active Software provides. BEA's software only allows customers to build point-to-point connections.

"They want to get into EAI, which is a smart move on their part," she said. "But they're trying to change the meaning of the term that's been recognized in the industry."

But Dietzen said BEA provides similar connectivity. "Some EAI vendors tie in already existing applications they don't want to change, such as two different ERP systems and finance and accounting [software]," he said. "That's not BEA's sweet spot. Our sweet spot is where you need some amount of business logic to stay competitive. Take new off-the-shelf software and use BEA to try to deliver a competitive solution by tying it into existing applications. That's very much an EAI problem."

BEA WebLogic Enterprise application server version 4.1, which allows Enterprise JavaBeans and Corba applications to interoperate, will be released in three months. The 5.0 version--which features M3--will be available in late 1999. The company will continue to sell its existing lower-end WebLogic servers, which will not integrate the M3 software.

The eLink Server--which is the basic middleware package that allows customers to use the eLink connecting software--will be available this second quarter for $170,000. The eLink software for SAP will be released in the second quarter, while connectors for other ERP software will be available over the next six months. The mainframe connecting software is available now. Company executives did not provide pricing.