BEA unifies its software development environment

To kick off its annual eWorld conference, BEA Systems Monday will unveil beta versions of its new suite of WebLogic software products, including its application server, enterprise portal and integration broker technologies.

But analysts predicted that companies will be most interested in the suite's upgraded WebLogic Workshop, since the new tool provides a unified interface for developing to any of the WebLogic products.

"That's the right direction," said Bob Carasik, enterprise architect at the IT arm of Wells Fargo & Co. in San Francisco. "We're glad to see they're adding new layers of functionality on top of the application server. They have to move up the stack, because application servers are going to become a commodity."

The first version of WebLogic Workshop, which shipped last year, was restricted to building Web services. The new version has been extended to let developers build custom applications, create portals, integrate applications and manage business processes and trading partners, said Chet Kapoor, vice president and general manager of San Jose-based BEA's integration group.

WebLogic Workshop has also been expanded with more controls to remove the complexity of building applications that rely on Java 2 Enterprise Edition technologies, Kapoor added.

"This is a very substantial piece of work," said John Rymer, an analyst at Giga Information Group. Rymer said the tool's initial version served as a proof of concept of BEA's overall design of an event-based Java development environment similar in intent to Microsoft's Visual Basic. He predicted that the new tool will have a substantial effect on developer productivity.

Even in the tool's early incarnation, some companies found benefit. Richard Lynn, vice president of global applications at Pfizer's pharmaceutical group, said his division was able to set aggressive timetables with the outsourcers that develop its applications, knowing that the BEA tool gave them added flexibility to make changes.

Lynn said the new tool will provide more benefits, since developers will no longer have to "Alt-Tab" between applications, and they will be able to more easily reuse code.

BEA is promoting its new WebLogic Platform as a way to converge integration and custom application development. Kapoor said the adoption of integration brokers has been limited, but he hopes WebLogic Platform 8.1, with its newly unified architecture, will make integration more mainstream by reducing the complexity, cost and time needed for such projects.

So far, BEA has made its mark as an application server vendor, vying with IBM for the top spot in market share. But BEA has struggled for recognition in the application integration space.

Thomas Murphy, an analyst at Meta Group, said he thinks that as developers become more productive using the new suite, the appeal of BEA's integration products will increase.

Murphy said he expects platform vendors such as BEA and IBM to eventually provide all of the integration tools that most companies need, pushing to niche vertical markets the vendors that specialize in integration brokers.

Jon Derome, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston, said that in the past 10 months, he has noticed that IBM and BEA have been turning up on users' short lists for integration projects, alongside integration broker vendors such as webMethods and Vitria Technology.

Derome said the combined application server/integration broker offering can make a lot of sense for companies with complex integration challenges involving multiple legacy or packaged applications and Web applications.

Just because BEA is promoting the new products and new versions doesn't mean users will be rushing to get them. Bear, Stearns & Co., for instance, has major financial applications running on BEA's WebLogic Server.

Most of the applications are running on Version 5.1, and Bear, Stearns is looking to convert to 7.0, said Sue Picus, managing director in the architecture office at the New York-based company.

"We don't just drop everything and convert," said Picus, noting that it costs money to port code to a new version and to retest the complete system. "We tend to upgrade only when there's a need."

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