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WebLogic man goes full circle with SpringSource

Second wind for Java application servers

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We had an interesting conversation with Peter Cooper-Ellis, the guy who ran product management at BEA Systems from the time it acquired WebLogic and who's now taking on a similar role with SpringSource. Obviously, in the wake of the Oracle acquisition, it's not surprising that Cooper-Ellis jumped ship.

But in making the jump to SpringSource, Cooper-Ellis has come full circle. As BEA was digesting its WebLogic acquisition, Cooper-Ellis was there when the Java stack was being built. Now at SpringSource, with its Eclipse Equinox OSGi-based server container, he's now part of an open-source company that's helping deconstruct it. So we explored some history with him and compared notes.

To summarize, Cooper-Ellis sees a bit of history repeating again today: a decade ago, the drive was for a unified middle-tier stack to make the web interactive, and today, it's the goal of having a dynamic lightweight stack that uses simpler constructs. In other words, a technology framework that actually delivers on the old promise of "internet time" - where things move fast on the internet.

Let's rewind the tape a bit. In the 90s, BEA (originally called Independence Technology) was formed to make a business in middleware. It thought its business would come from transaction monitors, but that only addressed a tiny portion of the market with transaction loads huge enough to justify buying another layer of software.

Instead, the killer app for middleware occurred with the application server. When the web caught on, there was demand to add the kind of data-driven interactivity that became real with client/server. BEA bought WebLogic, a company that gambled (and won) a bet that Enterprise Java Beans (EJBs) would become the standard (which it did with Java 2 Enterprise Edition in 1999).

Rise of the rebels

The good news was that J2EE (later joined by rival .NET) provided the standard middle tier that made e-commerce bloom (if you're going to sell something, you need a database behind your online ordering system). The bad news was that J2EE was obese, proving overkill for anybody who wasn't an Amazon, eBay, online banking, or travel reservations site - it was engineered for transaction-intensive, highly distributed, data-centric websites.

Not surprisingly, the complexity of J2EE subsequently spawned a backlash for Plain Old Java Objects (POJOs), supported by a growing array of open-source frameworks made famous by then Burton Group analyst Richard Monson-Haefel in 2004 as the Rebel Frameworks. More recently, there has been surging interest in dynamic scripting languages that let you manipulate data using higher-level constructs.

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