It's a head-scratcher of a deal. Two big names in the same market with overlapping offerings. Surely the only justification for spending so much money is to buy customers to leapfrog the industry number one.
No, I'm not talking of Microsoft's hostile bid for Yahoo!. I'm referring to Oracle's $8.5bn offer for Java middleware rival BEA Systems.
Customer roster aside, though, there is one thing BEA has that Oracle could be interested in. The building blocks of a strategy that might put Oracle-owned middleware on ever-smaller, embedded devices outside the enterprise.
Back in 2006 BEA Systems said it planned to revamp its middleware products around a new microService Architecture (mSA) - and then went very quiet about it. The ambitious plan involved rebundling the various components of products such as WebLogic Server using the Java-based OSGi standard with the aim of improving performance.
The goal was also to open up potential new markets for embedded service applications. OSGi is used on Java mobile phone and in-car systems, for example.
Despite its low public profile, BEA's engineers have not been idle and mSA-based development is now well advanced. It underpins two of BEA's key products - WebLogic Event Server and WebLogic Real Time server. More importantly, it will figure in the forthcoming release of WebLogic 10.3 due later this year.
"MSA has been hidden under the covers but a lot has been happening since 2006. The mSA technology is already making its way into our products," Martin Percival, BEA's European marketing director told Register Developer.
"Originally we saw it as a way to split products across the market - but now we are seeing a wider role for it. The OSGi standard gives us a well-defined interface and a good way to deploy and maintain service components. It gives us a better way to control services and to carry out fine-grain testing," he continued.
"It helps us cope with areas such as complex event processing because we can mix and match. This means we can respond more quickly in making new products. In the WebLogic Real Time Server, for example, we have made the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) more efficient by using mSA and in WebLogic 10.3... we will take the OSGi ideas to reduce immediate downloads," Percival explained.
BEA is now in discussions with independent software vendors (ISVs) about using mSA to customize their BEA middleware-based applications. "They might, for example, want to emphasize messaging and not use other aspects of a product. With mSA they don't have to buy the whole suite."
OSGi started out as a way to deploy Java more efficiently in embedded devices and got picked up by the Eclipse developer community as a tool for improving the way integrated development environments (IDEs) are built. But it is now seen as having a key role to play in server-side Java as a means of packaging services and calling them in a service-oriented architecture (SOA) environment.
It is this aspect of OSGi that BEA finds attractive, and that would certainly play to its core enterprise business, but the company believes there is still work left on the server side. "When it gets there it will take you into an easily customized environment," Percival said. The Eclipse Foundation recently confirmed its plans to push ahead with Project Swordfish which will use OSGi and other SOA standards to create a flexible server-side environment.
The big question is what this all means for Oracle. The database giant is a key member of the Eclipse Foundation and chief executive Larry Ellison is a keen advocate of SOA, which would certainly benefit a marriage of Oracle and BEA.
Oracle has also been quietly pushing an embedded strategy. Until now, that's been - surprise, surprise - database centric, with the Oracle database, TimesTen in-memory relational system for data management and caching, Berkeley DB for high-performance and non-relational data and Oracle's Database Lite for mobile systems. Oracle sells licensing or services around these products.
The Berkeley DB, for example - acquired by Oracle some years back - has an estimated 200 million deployments and is used in Linux, BSD Unix, OpenLDAP and OpenOffice to name just a few open-source packages Oracle can make money from.
Embedded, though, is the new black and rivals are getting in on the act. IBM is trying to purchase Telelogic, which specializes in tools for building embedded and real-time civilian and military systems. Add to that, IBM's WebSphere application server and its support for Apache Software Foundation's embedded Java relational database Derby, formerly IBM's Cloudscape product, and you have a deepening commitment to building and embedding middlware.
Sun Microsystems, meanwhile, is also shaping up. In purchasing MySQL, Sun will own a company 60 per cent of whose business comes from being embedded with ISV applications. Sun will surrounded this with its own federated portfolio of open source middleware and tools for building embedded Java applications. The only thing that stands in Sun's way is its own sheer incompetence.
The combination of BEA’s WebLogic running mSA and Oracle’s size and focus, though, provide a credible challenge to both. While BEA had the smarts to realize there was an opportunity outside the enterprise for its respected application server using OSGi and modularity, BEA in latter years has lacked the size and focus to execute and impact the market.
Oracle has the size to take on IBM and the attention span and focus to beat Sun when it comes to putting a small-footprint, embeddable application server and database stack on consumer devices and in third-party applications.
Also, WebLogic is more widely used than Oracle’s existing Java application server, increasing its appeal as a services-based platform and suiting Oracle’s objective in the enterprise heartland on SOA.
Larry Ellison wants to buy BEA so Oracle can become the number-one middleware company, and overtake IBM. A deal, though, will also mean that there is an invigorated alpha male in the embedded systems game.®