BEA works to unify WebLogic platform

BEA Systems is taking steps to unify the various products that comprise its WebLogic platform, though customers will have to wait until at least the end of the year before it "tastes and smells like one product," the company's chief technology officer (CTO) told developers here this week.

"What we've done over the years as we've introduced new products is allowed a bit too much divergence," said Scott Dietzen, BEA's CTO, speaking at BEA's eWorld conference. "We're committed to tidying things up so that they taste and smell like one product from top to bottom."

Besides its flagship application server, BEA's products include a portal server, an integration server and its forthcoming Workshop developer framework. By midyear the company plans to release WebLogic Platform 7.0, which will let customers buy those products in a single suite for the first time. Customers will be able to install the products together in a single deployment, officials said. BEA is also standardizing toolbars and other features to create a familiar environment for users across its products.

Further out, the goal is to provide a single management console for tuning and maintaining its various products after deployment. That is one of the biggest challenges, however, and won't be ready before a further upgrade is made available at the end of the year, Dietzen said.

"Providing a single management infrastructure is the hardest thing," he said. "WebLogic 7 gets halfway (to offering a unified suite) ... but it won't all taste and smell the same immediately."

Presenting a unified platform is important for BEA as it does battle with rivals IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. Its various products will continue to be sold separately, but it hopes that companies will deploy multiple BEA products to run their distributed applications.

The vendor is also addressing concerns about how it distributes new features and service packs. In the past, new features have been released as the company completes them, which has left some customers calling for more predictability, Dietzen said. It is now moving to a calendar-based model, releasing upgrades to its products in six-month cycles.

It will also bring some order to the release of service packs and patches. When it released them in the past it often didn't test them against all of its products. A customer who installed a service pack for its application server, for example, might find that it created problems with their integration server.

Moving forward, "service packs will be tested against all Web services products at once," Dietzen said.

The idea that many customers want a unified platform might be wishful thinking on BEA's part. Several developers here said their companies use only one of its products at the moment anyway, most often its flagship application server.

"We're only using one product, so being unified doesn't really apply to us," said Jay Sullivan, a developer with The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut.

Another customer was more enthusiastic. E2e Solutions Inc. in Irvine, California, builds "digital dashboards," or online systems that aggregate a company's data from various departments or regions to provide managers with access to key performance metrics. It uses BEA's application server and portal products, and plans eventually to use its new Workshop development framework.

Being able to manage and update the various elements as if they were one product would be a big help, said Hemant Warudkar, e2e's chief executive officer.

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