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Bye Bye BEA

Oracle's $6.7bn bid for rival BEA Systems would be the biggest deal yet in the ongoing wave of SOA consolidation. Though the offer is being compared to Oracle's previous acquisitions of Siebel and PeopleSoft, the thinking behind it looks different: Siebel and PeopleSoft were about expanding Oracle's market share in its core CRM market, while BEA would be about filling out Oracle's portfolio in SOA and standardized application servers. However, it's still ultimately a defensive play, as the standardized, interchangeable components of SOA threaten to commoditize products like Oracle's.

Oracle already has a SOA offering in its Fusion Middleware line, but this is stronger in higher-level BPM (business process management) and orchestration than the underlying application server. An acquisition of BEA would give it the WebLogic application platform, on which the higher-level Oracle products could run. Though many other vendors also
sell application servers, BEA's is particularly innovative thanks to technologies like LiquidVM, which eliminates the need for an OS by running Java directly on VMWare.

However, the companies' products aren't all complementary. Previous acquisitions of smaller vendors including Oblix and Collaxa have given the Fusion Middleware line the core SOA intermediary functions of ESB (enterprise service bus), management and governance. All these compete directly with BEA's AquaLogic product line, which will mean confusion for customers. As with Software AG's buy of webMethods, integrating the two competing products will take a year or more. In the meantime, customers already face uncertainty: BEA has to decide whether to accept the offer, and other competitors (HP is the most likely) decide whether to enter the auction.