BEA Upgrade Seeks To Unify AppDev, Integration

BEA Systems execs say that J2EE is still too hard, and that Java developers need to become integrators. IDN's interviews with BEA execs shows you how BEA's new WebLogic Workshop products and developer programs address these. And, in the process, reveals how BEA has taken a few pages from Microsoft's developers' playbook.

Tags: Developers, BEA, Java, Integration, J2EE, Server, Web Services,


BEA Systems execs say that J2EE is still too hard, and that Java developers need to become integrators. IDN's interviews with BEA execs shows you how BEA's new WebLogic Workshop products and developer programs address these. And, in the process, reveals how BEA has taken a few pages from Microsoft's developers' playbook.

When BEA execs rolled out their latest upgrade to WebLogic earlier this month at their BEA eWorld event in Florida, they said they were making two core statements about the future of Java/J2EE development in a web services world.

First, J2EE is still too hard, expensive and time-consuming for most developers.

Second, Java/J2EE developers need to become more aware of the legacy assets that lay around them, and in part that means they need to be able to do their own integration with data, application and business logic/workflow rules.

The features of BEA's WebLogic 8.1 upgrades (see details below), as well as BEA's revised developer programs (see below) look to tackle these shortcomings head on. Many have likened BEA's approach to what Microsoft did for the developer with Visual Basic: providing developers a graphical application modeling environment (complete with drag and drop and code generators) that will shield the complexities of systems level coding from the developer.

IDN spoke with BEA President Olivier Helleboid on the changing climate for BEA and J2EE app developers in a web services world. In one of his first comments, Helleboid echoed the concerns shared by many J2EE professionals, saying : "J2EE is just too complicated," adding that it limits productivity of the developer -- and even the growth of BEA itself.

IDN: While BEA is still a core J2EE company, do the product launches at BEA's eWorld event in Orlando, Fla. signal BEA's growing awareness that it must appeal to non-J2EE developers (both legacy and XML, web services).

<Helleboid:"J2EE and JCA [Java Connector Architecture] are clearly not enough. XML is clearly the standard we're seeing in terms of pulling together all the data and content, and integrating that into the business process. Web services will also be there."

IDN: What is the general message to developers from the release of WebLogic 8.1 family?

Helleboid: We believe there had to be a better bringing together of development and integration. It's core and center to what we're doing [with this release]. The developer has to migrate and matriculate to be an integrator, and professional services firms don't have the model to help them.

IDN: How does BEA define "integration" then? Is it with lower level APIs, data or business logic, where do you feel the integration needs to take place?

Helleboid: Front and center is what we call "convergence" or "business integration" We see customers developing new applications or services to their users that always seem to include development and integration. You can't do one without the other. Traditionally, users and customers needed to use separate products and different vendors for their application development and then their application integration. We are bringing that together with the WebLogic platform.

IDN: So, it sounds like with this release, BEA sees an evolution of the J2EE application server? Has web services technologies begun to pressure the stand-alone app server to change?

Helleboid: BEA started the application server and there we we're catering to developers with great success. At the time, there just wasn't anything other there that could do what we could do with Java. The next step is to help the developer with integration. So, now you can connect SAP, Siebel, PeopleSoft and maybe some mainframe application to your Java code, and also bring in some workflow processes. And, all that runs on the same server, using the same development tools.

IDN: That touches on so many aspects. What's the first step for the J2EE developer?

Helleboid: The first step, if you're a J2EE developer is that you need to know where you need to connect to other applications. Typically, that was a very complicated thing in Java. Often you had to build your own connectors in Java. It was possible to do that, but it was very complex. With what we're trying to do, a developer should be able to simply drag and drop a connector with an adapter from any package that it out there. The Java code behind that connection will be automatically generated, so it allows a Java developer to extend his skills beyond JMS and JavaBeans to connect with other applications.

IDN: Many Java developers have experimented with the Java Connector Architecture and otherwise using APIs to tie into other higher-end applications. Some have been successful, but there has also been difficulty and disappointment with that approach?

Helleboid: Developers were very frustrated having to develop certain custom integration. That was a very, very huge burden. And, in many cases, the developer wouldn't even do it himself. They would have to hire outside contractors, and that was very expensive. So, we are delivering pre-packed Java adapters for all the basic applications.

IDN: But Java adapters aren't that new. What is BEA doing to differentiate?

Helleboid: You're right, you're absolutely right. Adapters are not a new thing. The traditional EAI vendors have been offering them, but these were proprietary and not Java-based tools. So, we are building a family of Java-based adapters and delivering them in the context of a visual integration tool.

IDN: And that tool, Workshop, will be dependent upon WebLogic? And, all the code and the connections that derive from it will be in J2EE?

Helleboid: That's correct.

Outside Views on WebLogic, Workshop
But, at least one analyst suggests there are limitations in a purely server side approach to building an end-to-end, integrated application. JavaWorld magazine quotes John R. Rymer, research vice president at Giga Information Group noting that WebLogic 8.1 assumes everything is on the server side so it doesn't give developers good mechanisms for building rich user interfaces, because the facilities available in J2EE are pretty limited. So, in some sense, there's not a lot BEA can do there." Rymer also told JavaWorld that BEA's support for data modeling and data access is not up to par with what most developers want. "That's something BEA understands and is going to expand," he said.

For his part, BEA founder and CEO Alfred Chuang told NEWS.com that BEA's future needs to look past J2EE to broader legacy assets. "[W]e also have to look at the reality where the majority of developers in the enterprise are still using some very dated stuff like assembly languages on old mainframes and Cobol; these are things that we thought would die a long time ago but are still alive and kicking," Chuang told NEWS.com. For the entire interview go to http://news.com.com/2008-1082-991794.html

BEA WebLogic 8.1 Family -- In Detail
BEA WebLogic Platform 8.1 includes new versions of BEA's application server, Java virtual machine, enterprise portal, application development and deployment environment, and software integration solution. Enhancements include
  • Faster Deployment through new application lifecycle events (available by extending weblogic.j2ee.ApplicationLifeCycleListener) and faster J2EE module deployment.
  • New Component Support for a wide range of components and services, including EJBs, J2EE connectors, jCOM packets, JDBC, JTA, and JMS.
  • Security, Web services support though support for WS-Security and SOAP messaging and a framework that allows an application running in one WebLogic Server instance to invoke another WebLogic Server instance asynchronously.

  • A beta version of BEA WebLogic Platform 8.1 is available for download from BEA.

    BEA WebLogic Integration 8.1 provides a unified platform to build, extend, integrate, deploy and manage applications and business processes. Built on the BEA WebLogic Server, it leverages the Workshop environment and the runtime framework to supply developers a high level of abstraction to simplify application development and integration on the J2EE platform.

    From the GUI-driven platform, Java developers can access components needed to build and integrate applications — from business processes to application integration to standard Java Connector Architecture compliant adapters.

    Features include: (1) Business Process Management for creating workflows; (2) Data transformation from XML-to-non-XML transformations via XQuery; and (3) Message Brokering through a new channel-based publish and subscribe message broker that enables anonymous publish/subscribe communication between workflows.

    WebLogic Developer Programs
    Scott Fallon, BEA's director of developer programs, told IDN that the new outreach to J2EE developers is also designed to make J2EE app development more approachable.

    "Only 15% of Java developers even use EJBs, and from the user group research I've done, the percentage of people that say they are going to use them is not going up," Fallon told IDN. "So, our developer programs are geared to give all Java developers some support for developing applications and then integrating them."

    Fallon, a former employee at Microsoft, doesn't demur from the fact that BEA also took a few pages from Microsoft's MSDN with its developer support programs. "I'm not in touch with Microsoft anymore, it's just part of my resume. But, the BEA programs I'm building have a Microsoft heritage, certainly, from a program point of view and even a relationship point of view."

    Here are BEA's new developer programs:

    (1) Trial Edition: (Free) Provides users with a free downloadable 12-month development license for the most current version of the BEA WebLogic Enterprise Platform, including BEA WebLogic Workshop, Server, Portal and Integration. It also includes self-help resources available at: http://dev2dev.bea.com and http://support.bea.com.

    (2) Platform Edition: ($599) Offers users the latest BEA WebLogic Enterprise Platform release, trial software and components from BEA partners, technical support and quarterly shipments on CD containing new software updates, public betas, and partner trials. Additionally, subscribers receive a 12-month subscription to BEA WebLogic Developer's Journal, development book titles from leading technical publishers, and self-paced training materials from BEA Education Services.

    (3) Tools Edition: ($4,659) Encompasses all the Platform Edition benefits and includes a license to Borland's JBuilder WebLogic Edition. The subscription also includes 12 months of Software Assurance from Borland, ensuring developer support with the latest software updates.


    Pushing BEA Tech into New J2EE Standards?
    Some of the work BEA has put into Workshop will also be submitted to the Java Community Process (JCP) as proposed standards to J2EE. Specifically:
    · Java Page Flow and data bound pages- contributing to Struts effort and to JSR 168 and 127.
    · New JWS innovations - into JSR 181 (reliable messaging)
    · Java Controls - into JSR 181 (custom controls, control licensing model); and
    · BEA's XML Beans that converts XML document definitions into Java code, generating much of the Java needed to process an XML document -- to be submitted to JCP through the JAX-B JSR.




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