BEA's Plumtree buy adds to SOA plan

No company is more bullish on SOA than BEA. The problem is that BEA's WebLogic application server -- long the company's flagship product -- is really a Java platform, whereas an SOA is supposed to maintain platform neutrality. Hence BEA's platform-agnostic AquaLogic middleware, which shipped in early August, and BEA's surprise acquisition last week of Plumtree Software.

Why Plumtree, the last of the independent enterprise portal vendors? At first glance it seems like an odd choice, given that BEA sells its own reasonably successful WebLogic Portal, which the company said it will continue to license as a separate product for the foreseeable future.

But Forrester analyst John Rymer, who follows the space closely, said Plumtree's portal will be "the UI" of BEA's AquaLogic suite, which includes an ESB (enterprise service bus), data integrator, application security manager, and service registry.

"BEA is relying on a new product line with AquaLogic to restart software licensing growth," Rymer said. That growth has stalled in part, he added, because IBM's WebSphere application server is beating WebLogic and "getting stronger all the time."

Shane Pearson, vice president of product management at BEA, confirmed that Plumtree's portal will be part of AquaLogic, although he declined to provide details.

"We do see the acquisition as complementary to the 'services infrastructure' plan," Pearson said, referring to AquaLogic's place in BEA's product portfolio alongside the "application infrastructure" of the WebLogic line.

The Plumtree portal has made a point of avoiding platform lock-in. It runs on Java app servers and on Microsoft .Net. This degree of versatility dovetails nicely with the AquaLogic ESB, which is designed to be a lightweight, standards-based integration solution for SOA deployments. With the Plumtree portal, AquaLogic would gain a presentation layer and bragging rights as a fairly complete SOA solution.

The Plumtree portal offers other amenities, including a collaboration server, enterprise search, a development kit for creating cross-platform Web services, and more.

BEA needs a friendly face like Plumtree's to help it move beyond its techie base, which increasingly regards the app server as a commodity. In a sense, Plumtree on top of the AquaLogic ESB harkens back to the portal offerings that EAI players SeeBeyond, Tibco, and others introduced years ago with limited success.

But EAI products tend to link up a handful of systems. If the AquaLogic ESB gains traction and takes a central role in enterprise-wide SOAs, a best-of-breed portal on top of that "services infrastructure" could be the perfect complement.

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