BEA Systems Dons a New Tuxedo

BEA Systems Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif., unveiled BEA M3, formerly code-named "Iceberg," a development product to help companies build object-based large-scale transaction processing systems. Scheduled to ship in late July, BEA M3 holds promise of componentware that can build server-based applications supporting up to 1,000 transactions per second.

The name "M3" represents BEA Systems' view that the product supports third-generation middleware, the first and second being mainframes and client/server, explains Patti Dock, vice president of product marketing for BEA. BEA M3 is the componentized version of BEA's Tuxedo transaction processing monitor, which it acquired from Novell Inc. in early 1996. Developers can build applications intermixing both Tuxedo transactions and BEA M3 components, according to BEA Systems.

IBM Corp. unveiled a similar componentware architecture, called Component Broker, earlier in the year. "Both M3 and Component Broker define an emerging class of enterprise application servers," says Mike Gilpin, analyst with Giga Information Group (Norwell Mass., "A lot of companies are interested in application server environments to support both Web applications and in-house distributed component applications."

The main advantage of these component-based application servers is the increased speed with which developers can turn out or modify applications. "If a company has a business requirement that changes, or a new government rule they have to follow, object and component systems can increase their response time to turn around and support that business requirement," BEA Systems’ Dock says.

Nevertheless, adoption rates of technologies such as M3 and Component Broker may be slow, due to "inertia in corporate America," Giga’s Gilpin says. "However much CIOs may want to turn the ship and go in this direction, it's a big ship and takes a while to turn. Therefore, the uptake of these products is likely to be fairly gradual." In its first year, M3 may account for only 20 percent of BEA Systems' revenues, he predicts. Since the market tends to play up the latest technology announcements, "long after M3 and Component Broker cease being 'fashionable,' people will be out there doing real work with those products, deploying real applications," says Gilpin.

Transaction processing implementations -- most common for banks, warehouse operations and insurance claims processing -- have historically been in the domain of IBM mainframes, says Roy Schulte, analyst with Gartner Group (Stamford, Conn.). These systems briefly began to evolve to UNIX platforms, and now are evolving to Windows NT and the Web. Two new visions for transaction processing monitors now dominate the market, "built on Microsoft's COM and COM+, or CORBA and Java," says Schulte. Both involve component-based technology, he notes.

About 80 percent of new server-based applications will be build on componentware within the next 3 years, Schulte predicts. "Five years ago, component software was a laboratory exercise," he says. "Today, every new desktop application runs on component-based software." More than 20 hardware and software vendors are endorsing BEA M3, including Rational Software Corp., Symantec Corp., Digital Equipment Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Sequent Computer Systems Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc., Unisys Corp., PeopleSoft Inc. and Informix Corp.

The first betas of BEA M3 have been implemented by telecommunications, finance and transportation organizations. One early adopter, Ameritech's Customer Solutions Group (Chicago), was looking to build a customer contact system to help the group maintain constant and high levels of customer service at its 24 call centers. The organization is building components of its customer contact system with BEA M3, and plans to deploy the system by the end of this year, says Tim Terry, director of architecture for Ameritech's Customer Solutions Group. The application needs to support as many as 6,000 concurrent users.

"System availability is a key measurement for Ameritech," Terry says. "Our goal is to have systems available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. By building on BEA M3, the organization will have a "pragmatic way to centralize our business logic," Terry adds. The group needs diverse applications for different business units, including local and long-distance telephone accounts, cellular customers, paging customers, cable TV customers and security services. "Business rules are our key IT asset; we don't want to have to rebuild them," Terry says.

The version of BEA M3 shipping in July supports C++ application development on Windows NT, as well as on Digital UNIX, HP-UX, IBM AIX and Sun Solaris platforms. A Java-enabled version of BEA M3, with support for Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB), is scheduled for beta testing in the fall. In addition, Java-based frameworks -- such as IBM's San Francisco -- will integrate with M3. "Any application written to EJB can sit on top of M3, thanks to the wonderful world of standards," says BEA Systems’ Dock.

BEA Systems also announced that it has completed its multimillion-dollar acquisition of Top End enterprise middleware technology from NCR Corp. (Dayton, Ohio). Top End coordinates and connects end users to the databases they are accessing, by connecting together disparate operating systems -- such as Windows NT, UNIX and MVS -- into a single virtual computer that makes all applications and databases appear as if they are running on a local computer. Under the agreement, NCR will continue to market Top End as well as other BEA products. BEA also announced that Top End and Tuxedo will be integrated into a future BEA middleware product.