BEA lays out plans for Diablo application server

BEA Systems aims to help customers reduce their application downtime and cut the cost of integration projects with the next major release of its WebLogic Server software, due in the first half of next year, officials said this week.

Code-named Diablo, WebLogic Server 9.0 is due for beta release in September, with the final release slated for the first half of 2005, said Andrew Littlefield, a senior director of product management at BEA, during a session at the company's eWorld conference here in San Francisco. The current version, WebLogic Server 8.1, was released last July.

Diablo will let customers upgrade and patch applications -- as well as the application server itself -- without having to take their systems offline, which is important for businesses that need the highest levels of availability, such as banks, he said.

Customers will be able to load and test a second instance of their applications on their application server, and keep the first instance running after they go live, in case they need to migrate back in a hurry. They'll be able to do this initially with only Web applications, however; support for message-driven and rich-client applications will come later, Littlefield said.

For the application server itself, users with clustering will be able to upgrade and apply patches without taking the software offline. A program will work its way through the cluster, diverting traffic off of each server, applying the patch, rebooting the system and reinstating traffic. "It's a step closer to our goal of giving mainframe levels of reliability," he said.

One analyst called the changes a "net positive."

"The plus about Diablo is that they are realizing that BEA operates in a universe of many other systems, and taking down an application server for updates or even applying patches is not an option for companies looking to WebLogic as a reliable part of their infrastructure," said Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst at Zapthink LLC.

Also to cut downtime, Diablo applications will be deployable in "instrumentation mode," with software hooks for connecting to testing programs. Applications sometimes run into problems four to six weeks into deployment because of memory leaks and the like, and administrators often have to restart their systems to apply testing instruments, and then sometimes run the application for weeks to replicate the problem, according to Littlefield.

Deploying the applications instrument-ready carries a performance overhead of about 1 percent but means applications can be tested more quickly, he said. Hewlett-Packard (HP), BMC Software Inc., Wily Technology Inc. and Mercury Interactive Corp. have agreed to release versions of their tools that tie into those hooks when Diablo is released, Littlefield said.

On the management side, BEA has developed a portal interface for the WebLogic Server 9.0 console that administrators can customize to show the screens they look at most often, rather than flipping through several console screens as they do today. It has also reduced by about 50 percent "the frequency that you see that annoying little yellow (warning) triangle when you make configuration changes," he said.

BEA also promises to reduce the cost of integration projects with the addition of Quicksilver, its take on a messaging bus unveiled here at the event this week. The upgrade will also support XML Beans 2.0, which is supposed to simplify Java programming with XML, and several other new standards including J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) 1.4, J2SE (Java 2 Standard Edition) 1.5, WS-Reliable Messaging, WS-Addressing and the Security Assertion Markup Language.

"We don't see many usage cases where you need (IBM Corp.'s) MQ or Tibco (Software Inc.). We want you, out of the box, to be able to use WebLogic Server as a composite applications framework, without needing to buy additional messaging or bus products," he said.

Analyst Schmelzer found that curious, given BEA's usual position that its products augment, rather than replace, existing infrastructure software for building service oriented architectures (SOAs).

"They should stick to the story of BEA working well with all the existing systems and not pushing to have WebLogic replace any that are in use. It's only if customers feel that this can be done with little or no repercussions that they will increasingly use BEA to replace non-BEA systems. In the meantime, BEA should stick to the heterogeneous SOA story," he said.

BEA is also trying to make sure that the Web services code generated in Diablo is compatible with the .Net and C sharp code generated by Microsoft-based Web applications. Despite adhering to the Web services standards and the "best intentions" of developers this often isn't the case, he said.

What won't be included is software for managing data centers using the utility computing model. BEA decided some time ago that it won't try to manage the data center by selling the type of server virtualization and provisioning software being touted by IBM, Microsoft, Veritas Software, HP and Sun Microsystems Inc., Littlefield said.

However, it is working with HP and Veritas to provide software hooks so that their utility management products can tap into WebLogic Server, to access information they need about the performance and workload of BEA applications, he said.

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