BEA and Borland partnership: separate and equal?

IBM enemies flock together

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

A deal between Borland Software Corp and BEA Systems Inc is a relationship of equals that lock steps certain platform and developer products against a common enemy - IBM. It's not a precursor to acquisition,

Gavin Clarke writes

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That's according to BEA and Santa Clara, California-based Borland who this month will launch, market and sell a version of its popular JBuilder suite optimized to BEA's WebLogic Platform.

The product - JBuilder, BEA WebLogic Enterprise Edition - will support Java application development and deployment features that are unique to BEA's platform. Integration will improve ease of use and means that future versions of the Borland's product can be quickly rolled out once BEA releases a new version of WebLogic Platform.

The companies are targeting a common enterprise enemy: IBM. Borland contributes tools for Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), while BEA provides a combined web services development, application server, portal and integration software stack against IBM's WebSphere platform.

Borland senior vice president of business development and chief strategy officer Ted Shelton told ComputerWire the aim of this deal are to win customers from IBM. That will take three to four years to fully fall Borland and BEA's way, he said.

Shelton spoke after analysts and observers questioned the deal's long-term goals. BEA has been identified by some as the short-term winner in this renewed partnership, because this latest deal effectively grants BEA access to Borland's thriving community of Java developers.

BEA's own, separate efforts to attract one million developers to its dev2dev community by December are going slower than hoped. BEA told ComputerWire it experienced a 20% jump in dev2dev membership between July and June, but numbers are around 480,000 individuals.

BEA blames current economic conditions that it feels discourage developers from switching platforms. Scott Fallon, BEA vice president of developer relations, said: "One million was a stretch goal we set for ourselves last year... a lot of people expected the economy to turn around sooner than it has."

Such is the potential allure of Borland's developer community, rumors are now circulating that a possible acquisition by San Jose, California-based BEA of Borland is somewhere down the road. Such an acquisition would likely be hostile.

Borland was unavailable to comment on the rumors, while executives from San Jose, California-based BEA have either dismissed or refused to comment on rumors in separate interviews with ComputerWire.

Byron Sebastian, BEA vice president and general manager, said partnerships with Borland and other tools vendors would help up-take of BEA products, especially web services development environment WebLogic Workshop. Workshop is a unique environment that uses BEA's unique Java Web Service (JWS) files to automate development.

"The more third-party developers support JWS files, the more we will see that product get traction," Sebastian said. "You will see us continue to work with lots of tools vendors," he said but did not go into details of potential future partnerships.

Some, though, see a distinct advantage to acquisition. Ovum software analyst Bola Rotibi said BEA needs a strong portfolio to compete against IBM, Redwood Shores, California-based Oracle Corp and Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft Corp in this aggressive market. These companies boast strong tools and/or platforms while BEA is attempting to re-invent itself in this space, turning from application server vendor to infrastructure player.

Partnerships are good, Rotibi said, but can be fraught in the long-term. "In the short-term [BEA] gets the IDE. But what is the long-term view and strategy?" she asked

"You have to have a portfolio that is strong and matches the competitors. If you do that through partnership you get the expertise but you are beholden to them to a certain extent," she said.

IDC application development and deployment research director Rikki Kirzner ruled out acquisition as too expensive. She also portrayed Borland as a winner, because it can now aggressively harvest the old WebGain user base through BEA's sales and marketing staff. San Jose, California-based WebGain Inc was also a BEA partner before it exited the market.

Kirzner warned, though, Borland's relationship with BEA must "work well" for this to happen.

Borland clearly thinks it's on a winner. Shelton outlined two ways in which Borland will gain. First the company can now access WebLogic APIs and files not disclosed to other ISVs by BEA, for use in JBuilder, BEA WebLogic Enterprise Edition. That ties the two companies' launch cycles closer together, reducing the lag between the launch of a new version of a WebLogic platform product and Borland's product.

Integration in the first version of JBuilder, BEA WebLogic Enterprise Edition will include hot deployment, offered in WebLogic Server 7.0, reducing time between development and deployment.

Second, Shelton said BEA has a sales force 10 times bigger than Borland's, so it can get into more accounts against IBM and also appeal to IT staff who are higher-up the IT buying chain. Borland and IBM have roughly equal market share in Java application development on around 40%, according to analysts. "We want to challenge the IBM customer base," Shelton said.

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