BEA sees Java virtualization approach as differentiator

Middleware vendor says users are looking to improve general server virtualization

Middleware vendor BEA Systems Inc. will lay out its Java virtualization strategy later this week in China, an approach the vendor hopes will differentiate it from its competitors.

At its BEAWorld user conference in Beijing from Wednesday to Thursday, the company will announce a product road map for software due out in 2007 and aimed at optimizing how enterprise Java applications run in virtualized environments.

The move has been driven by customer demand, according to Guy Churchward, vice president of WebLogic products at BEA. Users are looking for ways to improve on the more general-purpose server virtualization capabilities already provided by vendors such as EMC Corp., XenSource Inc. and Microsoft Corp. "Customers were running into challenges around efficiency, optimization and performance," he said.

Come the first quarter of next year, BEA plans to release WebLogic Server Virtual Edition (WLS-VE), a version of its Java application server that includes the vendor's new Liquid VM technology.

Liquid VM is a BEA-specific Java Virtual Machine that enables Java applications to run directly on a hypervisor without requiring an operating system to be present. Initially, Liquid VM will work only with VMware's ESX Server hypervisor, but BEA plans to support other hypervisors in future including those from XenSource and Microsoft, Churchward said.

Being able to run Java applications virtually without recourse to an operating system will enable users to substantially reduce the amount of computer power, enabling them to lower the hardware costs per application.

Drawing a comparison between VMware's current approach towards application virtualization and BEA's new take, Churchward gave an analogy about moving house.

VMware's like a removal firm that comes in and packages up the entire contents of a person's house and transports it using massive trucks. "Once you open the boxes at your new place, you discover you don't need 60 percent of it," he said. BEA's approach resembles an individual taking the time to go through all their possessions prior to moving and throwing away what they don't need, therefore requiring smaller vans to transport their belongings.

"BEA's approach directly targets Java infrastructure flexibility, which has not always been the platform's core strength," James Governor, analyst with RedMonk, wrote in an e-mail interview. He believes the vendor is the first among the major middleware vendors to go down this path, but points to smaller companies Cassatt Corp. and DataSynapse Inc., which are already pursuing what he terms "a virtualize/automate/WebLogic strategy."

Due out in the summer of 2007 is Liquid Operations Control (LOC), BEA software to manage and control Java applications running on virtualized infrastructure. While users can combine LOC and Liquid VM to improve their WebLogic virtualization capabilities, BEA intends to widen LOC's scope so it can be applied to all enterprise Java applications, Churchward said, including support for the Apache Software Foundation's Tomcat technology.

Moving to manage other Java application servers is a course BEA has already begun to pursue, Governor wrote. "It's the right strategy, which BEA could dramatically accelerate by purchasing Covalent," he added. Open-source company Covalent Technologies Inc. provides products and services for Tomcat and other Apache software including the Axis Web service framework and Geronimo application server.

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