BEA Ships Liquid Data for WebLogic

BEA Systems Monday took the wraps off of the latest product it feels will differentiate itself from the competition — BEA Liquid Data for WebLogic.

The San Jose-based application infrastructure software maker developed Liquid Data to give workers a unified view of disparate enterprise data as part of a single platform. Using XML (define), BEA Liquid Data for WebLogic provides real-time info access to programs such as customer self-service portals, customer service and support, and supply chain applications.

Mark Cargas, president of BEA’s Enterprise Framework division, said Liquid Data provides a standard way for computers to aggregate and expose logical views of business data inside and outside firewalls, regardless of the location, format, or type of data source. These needs are especially prevalent in banks, who need to serve their customers in branch offices, online and through call centers.

Cargas the said the idea for the new product was propelled by the problem of polling unwieldy data from various resources: Liquid Data, quite simply, attempts to rein data in. Distributed systems, Cargas said, have become proprietary data silos, making it cumbersome and costly for businesses to aggregate real-time info viewing.

“We addressed the problem of ‘How do I send messages to and from packaged applications from SAP or Siebel?'” Cargas said. “There are lots of different appropriators — legacy and Web applications, databases, integration adapters, flat files, XML files — and we’ve created Liquid Data to aggregate them. This is for people who want to get a quick view of what customer data is available. Developers can craft a logical view from a unified location, as opposed to pooling application from all over.”

“40 percent of the work involved in CRM implementation is to retrieve data,” Cargas said. “Before Liquid Data, a person might build portlet views into each data silo, and as they were searching for a personal profile, claim or policy, they’d have to build an aggregate view in their head to find what they wanted.”

Cargas said BEA has solved the cumbersome coding associated with business applications.

“Let’s say you want to get info from Siebel,” Cargas said. “You could write enterprise application integration code whether you’re using Websphere or webMethods, grab it and put it together. Someone had to write that middleware code and that’s hard to do and do it right. And it can’t be reused.”

Liquid Data is based on XML query, a language that provides flexible query facilities to extract data from real and virtual documents on the Web. Analysts, such as IDC Research Director Michele Rosen, say XQuery, as it’s commonly known, does for XML what SQL does for databases.

Liquid Data has found placement with one major firm, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, who has agreed to training, education and co-marketing activities for the new product.

The tool costs $25,000 per CPU and is available now as an add-on to WebLogic products.

Virtual database technology

IDC’s Michele Rosen said she sees BEA’s Liquid Data product as being especially attractive to developers: the aggregation frees them from the hassle of designing and building applications that require data from multiple sources.

Rosen said the tool is part of a growing, albeit nascent niche of information integration called virtual database technology, where firms are “creating abstraction layers with a single point of access to manage heterogeneous applications.”

While the concepts are not entirely new, Rosen said businesses such as BEA are acknowledging the fact that there are so many different sources.

“They’re doing something about that by moving data into a single warehouse,” Rosen said.

Rosen said the product is interesting from the standpoint that it demonstrates BEA’s movement in an arena where it swore it would never go — the database, even if it is only in virtuality.

“It shows they are trying to expand beyond just being an application server vendor,” Rosen said. “They’ve come out with a portal server, and integration server and [Liquid Data] is the latest along those lines. This paves the way for them to address data in an agnostic, heterogeneous way. This is a good step forward for them to put a stake in the ground. This represents another product for BEA to use to diversify its revenue streams.”

Of course, rivals are exploring similar technologies. IBM’s Xperanto project, which advertises its cause, as it “illustrates how IBM is advancing the state of integration technology, combining XML and the emerging standard query language for accessing XML, XQuery, with the power of data integration across relational databases, XML documents, flat files, spreadsheets, Web services…” In fact, IBM even offers one of those bank scenarios BEA alluded to here.

Rosen said Xperanto is based on its DB2 database as opposed to BEA’s reliance on XQuery.

There are a few pure plays in this space, too, including Excelon, which was recently purchased by Progressive Software, and X-Aware.