BEA rides Java toward SOA
Manageability shines in complementary WebLogic and AquaLogic ESB releases
BEA Systems has redefined itself several times in its short history. Originally set up to sell the Tuxedo transaction manager, the company made a deft acquisition of the WebLogic application server in 1998, which it rode like a rocket to overwhelming market dominance. BEA soon lost focus, however, and permitted archrival IBM’s WebSphere to reclaim the lost ground.
During the past few years, the two companies have seesawed back and forth for market leadership, with IBM getting the best of it due to BEA’s ongoing indecision about how to position itself. The latter has variously touted itself as an e-commerce software vendor, a Java vendor, and a Web services tools purveyor.
BEA’s latest campaign, which exhorts users to “think liquid,” is supposed to emphasize the company’s Web services connection without abandoning its Java roots. This hybrid message is evident in BEA’s simultaneous release of its WebLogic 9.1 Java app server and its new AquaLogic 2.1 ESB (enterprise service bus). Both products demonstrate their substantial enterprise-grade heritage, although each has some limitations.
BEA is clearly trying to merge the Java servers and the ESB in pursuit of a compelling SOA story. Certainly from the standpoint of managing an SOA infrastructure, these products succeed.
Version 9.x of WebLogic was two years in the making -- a remarkably long period in an intensely competitive market. But the results are evident in this release’s greater scalability, enhanced management and configuration, smoother installation, and elegant management console.
BEA ships two separate versions of WebLogic: the entry-level WebLogic Express and the high-end, full-fledged server. The Express edition is an odd duck. It costs $495 and is a tiny subset of its larger sibling. In fact, it’s not even a full J2EE implementation, as it lacks support for EJB and JMS (Java Message Service). The ostensible goal of this release is to compete with free, midmarket open source offerings such as JBoss. However, a partial competitor such as WebLogic Express is not likely to be the best option here. JBoss is a much fuller option, as is WebSphere Server Express Edition 6, which is similarly priced but offers a full Java application server and development tools.
For my tests, I focused on the full enterprise version of WebLogic 9.1. This new release installs simply, with minimum of fuss, and comes up right away -- a considerable improvement over earlier versions. The console facilitates management not only of the server instance on which it’s running but of any instance within designated clusters. These clusters can be widely distributed -- with nodes at different physical locations -- rather than the traditional design of clusters, where all nodes share a common rack or are all located in the same datacenter.
All entries in the management console have links to clear and cogent explanations of the possible options. More vendors should adopt this thoughtful approach, which greatly facilitates the use of less commonly applied features. The ability to place notes in this supporting documentation would make this feature even more valuable.
The 9.x version of WebLogic includes WLST (WebLogic Scripting Tool), which is based on Jython, the Python-based scripting language that uses a Java syntax. WLST enables administrators to write extensive scripts for configuring and running MBeans -- the management entities for Java application server functions. The library of functions is extensive and truly facilitates management, especially of repetitive tasks.