Tuesday, February 22, 2005

SOA, Just an Application Server?

BEA's Alfred Chuang was recently quoted:

Are your new products, like Quicksilver (messaging integration software) a way to diversify your products?
It's not to diversify. It's filling the parts. At our size, we can't just sell products anymore. We have to sell both products and vision. We don't have a choice. We can't just keep selling the application server, saying, "But this is SOA. SOA is just an application server." We've got to tool it enough so that people say, "Ah, I understand."

It is good to see that BEA sees SOA as more than just an application server. What is less clear is if they intend to leverage their application server assets as the core to their SOA strategy.

I understand why BEA may decide to position the SOA battle on AppServer-Hill. They own that hill (or at least they used to). Is it possible that the BEA army will be waiting on the wrong hill for a battle that will never occur? Perhaps - or perhaps IBM will bring the battle to that hill knowing that 1. They can 2. They'll easily beat BEA. And of course, Microsoft will state that AppServer-Hill doesn't even exist.

Competitors will take the battle to a new hill, ServiceNetwork-Hill. They'll argue that clumping a bunch of tightly coupled Java API's together under session-clustered JVM's is silly. They will also be quick to note the 'coupling levels' within the J2EE platform and the fact that it was hard coded to support three configurations: one-tier, two-tier and three-tier (not N-Service). The competitors will tell you to read the J2EE blueprints and best practice guides to reinforce their point. The J2EE stack fundamentally wasn't designed to support a distributed service network. It's very name "application server" seems to reinforce it's goal. The complete lack of progress in the JSR arena on creating 'service networking' concepts indicates the strategy, resource allocation and potential adoption timelines.

It is extremely hard to make the transition from one paradigm to the next. When I was employed by a mainframe software company, it was clear to me that the client-server guys were going to kick our butts. It was equally clear that the application service guys were going to win over the PowerBuilder types. And yes, to me, it is once again clear that the service network guys will win over the application server companies.

The door has been left wide open to the startups to create the next big thing in enterprise computing. I wish you the best of luck.

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