BEA Touts WebLogic Platform 8.1

BEA users remain firmly committed to company, technology

At its annual user conference in Orlando, BEA systems this week touted version 8.1 of its WebLogic Platform, which includes a new version of the company’s WebLogic J2EE application server and a redesigned integrated development environment (IDE), among other features.

BEA used the opportunity of its eWorld conference to make its case to customers that its technology and strategy remain a viable long-term bet, especially in the face of increased competition from the likes of IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp., both of which market J2EE application servers that—if market research firms Gartner Inc. and International Data Corp. are correct—have eroded its once dominant share of the J2EE app server market.

To that end, BEA touted the tighter integration of WebLogic Platform 8.1, which it promotes as a unified platform for the development, deployment, and integration of enterprise applications. In addition to the WebLogic 8.1 application server and new Workshop 8.1 IDE, WebLogic Platform 8.1 is said to feature enhanced versions of WebLogic Portal, for portal development projects; WebLogic Integration, for enterprise application integration; and BEA’s JRockit, which the company—and many WebLogic users—celebrate as the world’s fastest JVM.

Confusion Abounds in the J2EE App Server Market

According to market research from Gartner and IDC, IBM has closed the gap with BEA over the last 18 months. There’s some reason to believe that these projections are less than accurate, however: Both research houses are miles apart from one another in their characterizations of the overall shape of the J2EE app server market. Gartner, for example, has BEA leading the J2EE app server space with 34 percent share to IBM’s 31 percent. IDC has BEA out ahead 24.8 percent to 23 percent. Both researchers claimed to use the data provided to them by BEA and IBM, among other vendors.

To confuse things even further, consultancy Giga Information Group last year reported that BEA and IBM were both tied for the overall lead in the J2EE app server space. Giga found that both vendors held 24 percent of the overall market.

Users Firmly in BEA’s Court

A good many WebLogic shops don’t appear all that concerned about market share. Almost to a user, WebLogic developers and administrators expressed confidence about the current shape of the platform, as well as about where it’s going. Many WebLogic users say that they’re committed to the platform as a result of unsatisfactory prior experiences with competitive J2EE application servers. With the availability of a new IDE and the other enhancements in WebLogic Platform 8.1, they say, their bet on BEA looks to be a sound one.

Take Daniel Wotziak, a freelance developer who’s assisting a German insurance company with its WebLogic implementation. “I've no experiences with Oracle and bad experiences with WebSphere,” he says, noting that his “experiences with BEA are very good, the support is very good, and you get lot's of support [from] many users in newsgroups.”

One WebLogic user, Brad Coomer, a programmer with a major U.S.-based telecommunications carrier, concedes that aspects of IBM’s approach with WebSphere—“the one-stop shop philosophy where one vendor’s software integrates well”—appeal to him. He adds: “Having worked with both Microsoft integrated products and the Java third-party vendor issues, I like the suite integration potential IBM may bring to the Java community.”

At the same time, Coomer says, WebLogic remains the industry’s premier J2EE application server, largely because of its features and support. “What I like most about WebLogic is the excellent support we have received from BEA.”

Another freelance developer, Wenji Tong, agrees that BEA’s product is still the best app server on the market, but says that because of IBM’s strong presence in some accounts, it’s not always a viable option: “WebLogic is always my first choice of J2EE application server. Sometimes, it is the client wants [an]other platform. For most financial institutions, they prefer WebSphere because IBM [has] a tight relationship with them.”

In addition to support, WebLogic developers tend to tout the platform’s ease of configuration, performance and small memory footprint as its most stellar attributes. Says Tong: “What I like most is its simplicity of configuration. Also it doesn't need too much memory to run, even in cluster mode.”

Moreover, adds Michael Hudson, a software architect with a government consulting company based in the Washington, D.C. area, BEA’s platform innovations separate it from many of its competitors. He cites the company’s XMLBeans technology—which describes a way for developers to access and manipulate XML technology using Java—and the JRockit JVM in particular, as two representative examples. “[XMLBeans] completely beats other Java-to-XML binding technologies hands down. I can use it like a Java object or parse the XML like a DOM tree without having to switch from one to the other. Very nice. And finally, JRockit [offers] … complete control over the JVM and its a lot faster than any JVM I've seen.”

In addition, Hudson lauds the integration capabilities that BEA has traditionally included as part of the WebLogic Portfolio. “I think the general architecture of the WebLogic Integration stuff is great, especially the asynchronous messaging framework they are strongly pushing developers to use.”

IBM, in particular, has responded aggressively on the integration front, gobbling up integration specialists Crossworlds Software, a purveyor of business process automation and business integration software, and Holosofx, a designer of business modeling tools, in the space of 11 months. Big Blue has since introduced technologies from both vendors in its WebSphere Business Integration suite.

The WebLogic Platform’s integration story, in particular, should get better in Workshop 8.1, as BEA enhances the ability of developers to create Java applications that exploit both its Portal and Integration offerings. Moreover, comments WebLogic developer Hudson, as an IDE, Workshop plays to a programmer’s strengths: “I can clearly see the benefit of the high-level business processing workflows that the WebLogic Workshop brings to the solution and it still allows people like me to get down and dirty with the code if I need to.”

No Rush to Upgrade?

As for potential WebLogic 8.1 adoption, a lot of existing customers seem to still be running on the 6.x version of the product—two versions removed from WebLogic 8.1. German freelancer Wotziak, for example, is working on a WebLogic 6.1 project for his client, as are Tong (6.1 SP3) and Hudson. Explains Wotziak: “Never change a running system. [Version] 6.1 is fine for our current problems.”

Programmer Coomer says his organization is in the midst of a migration to WebLogic 7.0 and doesn’t currently have a migration plan for 8.1: “[Version] 7.0 was a ‘We've got to get our servers on this version to help with production outages’ move, but so far I have not seen this urgency with the 8.1 product.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.