HP eliminates several middleware products

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) confirmed Monday that it is discontinuing several middleware products and will instead address that market segment though partnerships with other vendors, including Microsoft Corp. and BEA Systems Inc.

HP's Netaction Application Server, Netaction Web Services Platform and Web Services Registry are being eliminated, HP said. Transition program details will be announced by Sept. 15, according to HP. The company has also stopped developing eSpeak, HP officials confirmed, a technology for connecting networked devices that was once considered ahead of its time.

HP's Netaction product line was created through the company's estimated US$470 million acquisition of Bluestone Software Inc. in early 2001. But the products never gained much traction among customers, and HP's software priorities remained elsewhere, according to analysts. HP executive Peter Blackmore told analysts at a meeting in June that HP would soon be retiring its middleware line. HP will focus its software development efforts around its OpenView network management portfolio, its Opencall communications suite and its Utility Data Center software for automating data center operations, the company said.

HP decided to stop developing its own middleware products, which are based on Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java technology, because it wants to be a neutral player in the battle between Java and Microsoft Corp.'s competing .Net technology, said Nora Denzel, senior vice president of HP Software. Moving forward, for customers who favor Java, the company will offer systems built primarily around BEA's WebLogic middleware family. For customers who prefer Windows, it will offer Microsoft's .Net products.

"It makes sense to have a more vendor-agnostic strategy and not be heavily weighted toward one stack or another, and that called for a partnering strategy," Denzel said. In addition, she noted, the middleware market is becoming "heavily commoditized."

The deal with BEA is not exclusive, meaning HP could offer an application server from another vendor such as IBM Corp. if a customer asked for it, she said. The company is likely to push BEA's software hardest, however; BEA in return has agreed to promote HP OpenView as the preferred product for managing IT infrastructures.

Denzel declined to comment on whether HP hopes to sell off any of its middleware, though industry sources have said such efforts are underway. HP hopes to make use of at least some of its middleware technology in products such as OpenView, she said, which is being enhanced to provide better capabilities for managing Web-based applications and services.

One analyst said the strategy makes sense, particularly in light of HP's failure to make headway in the middleware market. By the time it had acquired the products from Bluestone Software, vendors such as BEA were already establishing themselves, and HP never applied the marketing or development muscle needed to catch up, said Mike Gilpin, a research fellow with Giga Information Group Inc.

"They are logically at the nexus of the battle between the Microsoft world and the J2EE world," he said. "If you look at their full family of platforms you can see they are equally capable of supporting (.Net or Java), or both."

HP will likely try to sell off some of the components that made up its Netaction application server, he said. The company had been rebuilding the product using a "services-oriented" architecture which would allow it to sell or license discrete components of the application server, such as the transaction server, to a third party, Gilpin said.

"That's really quite an advanced architectural notion. Most application server vendors have had the same idea and are transforming their products internally to the same model," he said.

HP said the partnering strategy puts it in an advantageous position over Sun and IBM, which are firm Java backers, the analyst said. IBM will also offer .Net-based systems to its customers, but HP should have the advantage in that market, Gilpin said.

Other analysts have said the strategy poses some risks for HP. Application servers and other middleware have become central to the industry's efforts to link business applications over the Internet, with the goal of streamlining corporate operations and cutting costs. Without any middleware of its own, HP loses an important part of its relationship with its customer, those analysts have said.

Denzel disagreed.

"The middleware layer is embedded in the solution; the strategic part (of the relationship) is the solution," she said, meaning the entire package of software, hardware and services.

"What I'm most excited about is that we're going to double down in this management hand," she said. "We've got OpenView, and if we combine it with Utility Data Center we create a management fabric that can manage people's computing infrastructure regardless of what they have in their (software) stack."

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