Intense speculation about a secret BEA project code-named Sierra ended last week when CEO Alfred Chuang used the company's eWorld forum to give the initiative a real name: Liquid Computing. An amalgam of current and future BEA technologies centering on Web services and SOA (service-oriented architecture), Liquid Computing is basically BEA's answer to IBM's On Demand initiative.
In other words, Liquid Computing -- a vision of an SOA-based enterprise application infrastructure that will dynamically adapt to shifting business demand -- is primarily a marketing concept.
Not that technology-driven BEA has any shortage of interesting new stuff to back up its vision. One week before eWorld, the company unveiled its Beehive Project, an open source implementation of the run-time container underlying WebLogic Workshop, BEA's groundbreaking Java development environment. The eWorld show also saw the formal announcement of Alchemy, a collection of technologies for mobile application development and deployment, and QuickSilver, a Web services-based ESB (enterprise services bus). Last but not least, a new Process Edition of WebLogic Server will draw on the platform's integration capabilities to enable composite application development.
The problem for BEA is threefold. First, Liquid Computing's exaltation of SOA may be exactly right, but with IBM and Microsoft singing roughly the same tune, the pitch sounds imitative. Second, with the exception of WebLogic Server Process Edition (due this summer), none of the technologies announced at eWorld has a definite ship date.
More difficult, perhaps, is that slumping licenses and stock value -- not to mention market share lost to IBM and its WebSphere product line -- have put BEA under pressure and raised expectations that eWorld could not meet. "Everyone was holding their breath for BEA to do something dramatic, something that would show leadership," said Yefim Natis, a research director at Gartner. "They've done several positive things, but none of them is big enough to be inspirational."
When asked how BEA had demonstrated leadership at eWorld, CTO Scott Dietzen cited WebLogic Platform 8.1, which shipped last year. "The fact is that with 8.1, we have delivered a single, integrated platform for SOA."
Well, almost, depending on what you think should be part of that package. With Liquid Computing, BEA has for the first time attempted to roll up its impressive collection of app server, IDE (integrated development environment), portal, and integration technologies into an initiative people outside of its propeller-head constituency can understand. Some of those pieces are still to come.
Chuang told InfoWorldthat Liquid Computing will truly become manifest in Version 9 of the WebLogic Platform, due in the second half of next year (a full version of QuickSilver will arrive sometime later). Meanwhile, Chuang said, BEA will breathe life into the company's vision of what the SOA future of IT will look like. "We can't just say product, product, product anymore. We have to explain the whole picture."