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BEA plans chip-based Java speed boost

The company is expected to announce plans to speed up its version of Java for servers by letting the software run directly on processors.

BEA Systems is expected to detail a plan next week to speed its version of Java for servers by letting the software run directly on processors.

Java, invented by Sun Microsystems 10 years ago, is a layer of software that lets programs run on different computers without having to be adapted for each one. Making software portable in this way is useful, but Java comes with a performance penalty.

Sources familiar with the company's plans said BEA will announce at the JavaOne trade show that it's working on a version of JRockit--its virtual machine software that runs Java programs--that runs directly on a computer's hardware. In contrast, most Java today runs on an operating system such as Windows, Linux or Solaris.

Likely processors BEA could support include Intel's Xeon, IBM's Power and Sun's Sparc, one source said.

BEA is one of the leading companies in the market for Java on servers. Its chief competitor is IBM, but open-source efforts such as JBoss also are catching on.

BEA isn't the only one to try to give Java hardware help. Sun was the first, launching but eventually canceling a Java processor called PicoJava. Next came a chips to speed Java in cell phones--products from companies such as ARM Holdings that made it to market.

Most recently, start-up Azul Systems has begun selling special-purpose servers for as much as $800,000. They're packed with customized chips that provide a centralized pool of processing power for executing Java programs; the company emphasizes the flexibility of its approach rather than performance.

BEA also is expected to disclose at the show a strategy that embraces virtualization, a technology that can make a computing infrastructure more flexible and efficient by breaking the tight link between hardware and software.