Oracle, BEA in Application Server Duel

In a move to counter application server momentum news from rival BEA Systems Inc., Oracle Corp. Monday unveiled a new Java-oriented version of its application server and a “switch-n-save” program to lure customers from BEA into its fold.

Oracle’s new “switch-n-save” program is considered by many industry watchers to be a serious low-belt blow to rival BEA because it is designed to encourage the migration of BEA WebLogic customers to the new Oracle9i Application Server Java Edition, free of charge, and paves the way for BEA customers to exchange enterprise licenses for an equal number of Oracle9i Java Edition licenses.

The product skirmish between the two infrastructure software companies began with an announcement from San Jose, Calif.-based BEA that it was expanding its WebLogic campaign focus to include entry-level, mid-market enterprises.

In past years, BEA has beat out Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle in the battle over dominance in the worldwide application server market.

In 2001, BEA and IBM took the lead, with Oracle and Sun Microsystems following at a distant second and third.

On Monday, BEA announced that it had gone to market with its WebLogic Server 8.1 and a certified version of its WebLogic JRockit 8.1, the underlying key to BEA’s WebLogic Enterprise Platform.

BEA WebLogic Server 8.1, the successor to BEA WebLogic Server 7.0, is the company’s flagship enterprise application server and is designed for building Java applications as the basis for BEA’s business integration platform.

WebLogic Server 8.1 previously used Sun Microsystems’ HotSpot Java virtual machine (JVM), but will now run on JRockit 8.1, which optimizes WebLogic on servers running Intel chips, the company said.

JRockit 8.1 is the default JVM for server-side applications using Windows and Linux on both IA-32 and IA-64 bit architectures, and according to BEA, it opens the door for many businesses looking to migrate to Linux and choose the software and hardware combinations that suit their needs.

BEA also came out with news that its had expanded its list of distributors and partners to include Intel, Red Hat, and Bull, and software infrastructure partners Borland, Mercury Interactive, Quest Software, and Wily.

The other lure for BEA’s revamped product offering is a significant reduction in the pricing structure for its WebLogic Server 8.1 to nearly half of what the earlier version was priced at, suggesting that BEA is turning its focus toward competing with other open-source Java application servers.

Within a hairbreadth of BEA’s mid-market push, staunch rival Oracle also went to market with a cheaper, Linux-friendly version of its application server offerings by announcing the release of the Oracle9i Application Server Java Edition, also at a significant price decrease.

The Oracle9i Application Server Java Edition is a mid-market product that combines Java development tools and deployment platform into a single package so that companies can quickly begin developing and deploying Java applications and Web services.

In a further move to upstage BEA and IBM, Oracle also announced plans to sell its new application server for half of what it charges for its standard, enterprise edition application server bundles.

Oracle will also offer embedded licenses of Oracle9i Application Server Java Edition free of charge for independent software vendors, which will enable software makers to embed Oracle’s Java 2 Enterprise Edition application server technology in their specialized applications.

The outcome of the two industry rivals’ push for more expansive, mid-level markets remains to be seen, but at the very least, Oracle is expected to give Sun a run for its money.

Oracle9i Application Server Java Edition is immediately available for purchase or free download from Oracle Technology Network.

8.1 versions of BEA’s portal and WebLogic Workshop tool will be available by June, with a new version of WebLogic Integration available in August, the company said.

BEA WebLogic JRockit 8.1 is immediately available for download as well as from JRockit distributors Bull, Intel, and Red Hat.