The BEA-all and the end-all

ellison-larry-oracle.jpegThis seems like a weird moment for Larry Ellison to stick to the script.

After a long-winded battle to take over the largest independent middleware vendor, Oracle on Wednesday refused to allow media or analysts to ask any questions during the brief conference call announcing that the price had been agreed upon. This is an unusual step for Oracle. For the last several years, for example, Ellison has turned his keynote address at the firm’s annual customer conference into a sort of town hall meeting. Having managed to conquer yet another rival, there’s no real reason to clam up now.

Perhaps Oracle and BEA are so glad to have the suspense over that they don’t want to discus the biggest question mark hanging over the deal. When one firm acquires another, one of the first things you look for is product overlap. There was always overlap in Oracle and BEA’s case, but it has never been more notable than it is today. The company has spent an enormous amount of R&D time and sales efforts to promote its Fusion Middleware applications. Now it has bought the one thing it doesn’t need: more middleware applications. Most companies entering a new market have to choose between growing the right products organically or just buying their way in. Oracle has decided to do both, but in the most awkward manner.

BEA is a more mature player in this space, so it’s virtually impossible to imagine Oracle offering Fusion in a side-by-side comparison with WebLogic. Oracle wouldn’t dare jeopardize the BEA installed base by forcing migrations, but it hasn’t yet made the same commitments it made when it took over PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards to offer unlimited support on the acquired products, or that customers could continue to opt for an “unfused” version of WebLogic that has nothing to do with Oracle’s own middleware.

The other loose end in all this is the fate of BEA’s AquaLogic business process management (BPM) suite, which had been getting more marketing attention than the middleware products over the last year. Just before Christmas, for example, the company used a BEAWorld event in Shanghai to unveil a slew of additions to the AquaLogic lineup, including tools to manage different interactions between services and applications. A lot of them seemed tailor-made to address IT manager problems around security and service management. Their impact will likely be blunted as customers sift through Oracle’s vast portfolio, including its own BPM and BPEL products.

It’s tempting to see BEA’s acquisition as a commentary on the service-oriented architecture (SOA) trend. After all, BEA reached its peak as SOA become the predominant enterprise architecture strategy of the last five years. The consolidation of middleware software among the big players may suggest SOA is finally ready for prime time, but it could also mean that the hype didn’t match the actual business demand that would have supported independent middleware vendors. Perhaps when Larry Ellison breaks his silence customers will be able to ask him about that, too.

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