Oracle last week directed a "switch-and-save" migration program squarely at users of BEA's WebLogic application server. At no charge, BEA customers will be eligible to swap their WebLogic per-processor enterprise licences on a one-for-one basis for per-processor licences of Oracle's 9i Application Server Java Edition, which was introduced last week.
Oracle said its experts would even help those BEA users with their migrations.
Meanwhile, this week at its developerWorks Live conference, IBM will release a free plug-in that will let users of its WebSphere Studio development environment test and deploy applications on the WebLogic application server.
An IBM spokesman acknowledged that the newly added support for WebLogic will make it "easier to migrate from WebLogic to WebSphere", in addition to making the tools available to a broader spectrum of developers.
Carl Sjogreen, senior product manager of WebLogic Workshop, welcomed support from other tool suppliers to help developers build applications to run on the BEA platform. "[Users are] going to see the merits of our platform underneath," he said.
IBM and BEA have been embroiled in a heated battle for the lead in the application server market, with Oracle trailing in third place. But so far BEA has not made a serious play in the tools market.
That will change this summer when BEA releases the second, more all-encompassing version of its WebLogic Workshop, which will work across all of the company's products. The first release was only for building web services.
Meta Group analyst Craig Roth said he did not think IBM would find many takers to develop in WebSphere and deploy on WebLogic, adding that he would consider "the shot from IBM . . . to be a compliment to BEA and WebLogic Workshop".
Oracle, which has little presence in the application server market, is more likely to see BEA as a target than IBM, Roth added.
"With BEA, you feel you are attacking an architecture group or an infrastructure group that you may have a chance of actually swaying," he said. "You can't sway a CEO with a switch-and-save offer, and IBM often makes handshake deals at that level."
But Forrester Research analyst Mike Gilpin said BEA generally took good care of its customers. "Most that I run into are quite happy and loyal," he said.
Gilpin added that although Oracle's application server has improved significantly, the product generally has held appeal only for Oracle's database and application customers.
This is why Oracle is hoping to sway BEA customers. If they're already using Oracle's database server, they may want to get their application server from the same company, said John Magee, Oracle's vice president of product marketing.
Oracle sells a standard edition of its application server, at $10,000 per processor, which includes portal and content management capabilities. Its enterprise edition, priced at $20,000 per processor, includes features such as a directory infrastructure, security, caching and wireless capabilities.
The new, lighter Java Edition, which sells for $5,000 per CPU, features support for core Java 2 Enterprise Edition technology, an HTTP server, five seats of the company's JDeveloper tool and the TopLink object-to-relational persistence software that Oracle acquired last year from WebGain.
Magee said Oracle's Java Edition has more capabilities than the Express products from BEA and IBM. He said Oracle could give away the Java Edition to BEA customers because its long-term business model is based on the "extended middleware functionality", such as portal, integration and business intelligence, in its higher-end versions.
BEA director of product marketing Erik Stahl said he "almost never" sees Oracle in the sales cycle. He added that he has witnessed similar Oracle campaigns in the past. "It's an acknowledgment of our leadership in the space."
BEA this week announced the availability of WebLogic Server 8.1 and its JRockit 8.1 server-side Java virtual machine, which has been optimised to run on the Intel architecture.