What is it?
While IBM dominates the application deployment server market with 37%, BEA is runner-up at 12%, with Oracle a distant third. Like IBM, BEA has had to cope with the growing challenge from open source, and has been losing business to JBoss. But after a couple of years of struggle, BEA seems to have regained its equilibrium.
Best known for its Weblogic application server, BEA also owns the Tuxedo middleware suite. Last year it got into the burgeoning service-oriented architecture business with Aqualogic.
BEA provides two versions of its development toolkit, Workshop Studio, and the open-source Project Beehive, which is managed by the Apache Software Foundation.
Where did it originate?
BEA Systems was founded in 1995, and Weblogic has now reached its ninth, J2EE 1.4-compliant generation. In the late 1990s, when the term "application server" was coined, the analyst firm Ovum said, "For IT departments, it signifies a comforting return to the good old days when software was centrally managed, deployed and controlled." With Aqualogic, BEA claims to be moving "beyond application silos and vertically integrated software stacks, to a new world order of horizontally integrated service networks".
What's it for?
BEA commissioned a survey of 800 European developers, and found 60% were scheduled to deploy service-oriented architectures. More than half spent most of their integration efforts on the application layer, trying to integrate proprietary application stacks and software.
No doubt the questions were formulated to suit the aims and methods of Aqualogic, which BEA describes as "an open and independent platform for developing, deploying, managing and operating a complete service-oriented architecture in heterogeneous computing environments, including .net, Java [and] legacy systems".
Eric Stahl, BEA's senior director of investor relations, says, "The whole point of SOA is to facilitate interoperability of heterogeneous systems, regardless of what hardware, operating system, database or programming language the service was built on.
"This will make it harder for Oracle, SAP, Microsoft or IBM to become a single-supplier standard within a customer's IT environment."
Weblogic provides the application infrastructure, Aqualogic the service infrastructure. Bloor Research says, "The application infrastructure is based on coding, the service infrastructure on composition, configuration and rules."
What makes it special?
According to Robin Bloor, "infrastructure management has to be delivered as a service and SOA is the architecture through which it will happen". Gartner says BEA's technology is well positioned to take advantage of the "significant" adoption of SOA in the next few years.
How difficult is it to master?
BEA has introduced a demanding three-phase SOA Enterprise Architect certification which includes a presentation to a "review board" of SOA experts. The first stage on the way to certification is a two-day course on SOA concepts and design principles using Weblogic. Rapid application development and admin courses take five days each and cost is around £400 a day.
Where is it used?
BEA claims 15,000 customers around the world, including "the majority" of the Fortune 500.
What systems does it run on?
Linux, AIX, HP-UX, Solaris, Mac and Windows.
What's coming up?
The open source Spring Integrated Development Environment is to be bundled with BEA Workshop Studio.
Start with http://dev2dev.bea.com/
Rates of pay
J2EE/Weblogic developer jobs start at around £30,000, and some very high rates are on offer for deployment specialists and architects.