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Oracle risks loss of influential BEA users

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During its trumpeted webcast on plans for BEA Systems, Oracle's top brass stressed their commitment to middleware to keep the new flock happy. So it purchased BEA to expand Oracle's presence in Asia and Japan - that wasn't the point.

President Charles Phillips and senior vice president of Oracle server technologies Thomas Kurian simultaneously announced plans to maintain all software from both companies while killing off inferior or overlapping middleware. In the biggest coup for BEA, its WebLogic Server became the application server of choice, eclipsing Oracle's own.

Offically, this strategy is what Oracle calls Applications Unlimited - lifetime support for existing applications while building new versions of its Fusion Middleware.

In reality, this is what we call a policy of trying to keep everybody happy. And to be fair to Oracle, it's a decent idea. Previously, companies have acquired others only to lose customers by shutting down or end-of-lifing the rival's software. In a market where the competition is SAP on applications and low-priced open source companies at the middleware layer, Oracle is wise to be so, er, giving.

Turning to BEA, though, Oracle has its work cut out. The giant has everything to lose, turning the $8.5bn acquisition into a monumental waste of time if a sampling of the BEA customer base by TheServerSide.com and SearchSOA.com is to be believed.

More than half of BEA users view the acquisition negatively, with 33 per cent willing to be swayed either way. Seventy per cent said they'd replace their BEA product if Oracle chose to discontinue it. OK, that's good for Oracle. But hang on: 62 per cent said they would not move to comparable Oracle software, while a quarter said they are unsure. Hello IBM and open source.

Why's that a real problem for Oracle? Because the vast majority of BEA users are, no surprise, running the WebLogic application sever, while more than 40 per cent are on a BEA portal of some kind - which includes, again, WebLogic. Now you can see why Oracle's application server got strategically downgraded in favor of WebLogic.

Oracle's not making things any easier for itself when it comes to retaining users, and that's a real problem in the making. Stage-managed web casts go only so far, and Oracle needs to be out there doing a whole lot more to woo customers of BEA.

Phillips may be bullish on Oracle's ability to re-badge acquired companies' engineers and offer lifetime support, but BEA users aren't buying it. Do BEA users think Oracle can give their favorite software the proper levels of support?

Yes, we have no plans

Opinion is split: 26 per cent say yes, 29 per cent say no. Forty-five percent are unsure, meaning there's a huge contingent that could swing either way if Oracle comes remotely close to screwing up or miscommunicating. And so far, Oracle's either not communicating its plans or it's simply not planning to support what BEA customers are running. Just 12 per cent said they'd been contacted by Oracle to tell them their products will continue to be supported.

There's clearly a large number of undecideds among BEA users when it comes to Oracle. Unless Oracle engages more and gives some clear direction backed with some solid product action, and less fluff about applications unlimited, then the door on new projects will creak open to IBM, JBoss and even SpringSource. ®

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