Friday, October 12, 2007

Oracle makes its move to acquire BEA

Someone had to pull the trigger, and few companies could better leverage and extend the value of BEA than now-public suitor Oracle. On Friday Oracle announced a bid of $17 per share in cash for BEA, a 25 percent premium over BEA's closing stock price on Thursday, or $6.6 billion, according to Reuters.

Speculation has swirled for years that BEA was going to have a tougher time remaining independent. But the circling buzzard moves by activist investor Carl Icahn put the pressure on those interested in BEA to move before Icahn managed to jack the price up -- or force something akin to a breakup, based on his growing clout in BEA as a large investor.

Based on its financial and market performance lately, Oracle is firing on all cylinders. The aggressive software giant has never been stronger, its finances flusher, nor its portfolio of offerings more broad and deep.

Oracle has quite successfully acquired, absorbed and leveraged large and complex acquisitions including Seibel, PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards and Hyperion. Oracle should be very well positioned to merge BEA into the Redwood Shores, Calif. fold to fill out its infrastructure portfolio and -- crucially -- add SOA strengths to undergird its burgeoning applications business, while further exploiting the role and market depth of its extensive database installed base.

What's more, a combined Oracle and BEA offers a strategic bludgeon to all three of Oracle's main competitors -- IBM, SAP and Microsoft. At the same time, the Oracle and BEA mashup gives longtime rumored potential BEA acquirer HP a fascinating new partner for a greater depth of reach of IT solutions. Strategically aligned Oracle and HP helps reach parity with IBM, while besting SAP and Microsoft for strategic accounts penetration and retention.

HP can offer the channel, hardware, services, and client-side PC business that will complement both its strong existing partner Microsoft, and a BEA beefed-up Oracle -- a mighty powerful global enterprise market solutions alternative to IBM. Neither Microsoft nor SAP can ditch HP, even as it perhaps gets more cozy with Oracle/BEA. HP can be both neutral enough and aligned enough to play many would-be competitors as partners through the mutual need to provide a full solutions hedge to IBM.

And should Oracle succeed in acquiring and effectively absorbing BEA, the tectonic market shift may well push SAP into IBM's arms. Yet even a deeper IBM-SAP alliance could only go so far, as IBM will continue to leap up the SOA value ladder to provide more applications services as composited and increasingly verticalized business processes.

Thus the biggest loser in the Oracle-BEA conglomeration is SAP. The second big loser is Microsoft, which will be further isolated in its lack of an effective open source strategy, and boxed-in position trying to be Windows Everywhere in a loosely coupled world.

While I blogged just last week that Microsoft should buy BEA, the BEA-Oracle match up makes deep and abiding sense. I still think Microsoft needs to bite the bullet and expand its enterprise solutions purview across more platforms and frameworks while it pursues its gaming, search, consumer and mobile opportunities.

Other vendors will be significantly impacted by the proposed merger as well. Red Hat, Sun Microsystems, and TIBCO will face a tougher market. That's because Oracle will provide Linux and other open source value benefits (to blunt Red Hat's differentiation), provide deeper proprietary transactional performance characteristics (to etch away at TIBCO's differentiation), and offer one-stop shopping for a full and robust Java environment (to further demean Sun's purported Java advantages).

Sun -- a one-time Oracle collaborator wannabe -- looks especially disenfranchised in an IBM-Microsoft-Oracle/BEA world. Perhaps TIBCO and Sun may need to work together? One also has to wonder whether Apple and Oracle have more room to grow in terms of cooperation and complementary enterprise solutions.

The only thing that could upset the union is if other suitors enter the fray to try and wrest away BEA from Oracle. Icahn's influence will probably assure that BEA accepts, or at least doesn't doom, the Oracle acquisition. For those today mulling a potential counter-offer to Oracle, they must surely recall the tenacity and sure-footed way in which Oracle acquired PeopleSoft. Once Oracle has its teeth into a target, little seems likely to deter it from its intentions.

Indeed, the Oracle bid for BEA will be hard to undo. Once the merger is done, this combo shifts the landscape of enterprise IT solutions providers and provides a major new global second-source to IBM's resurgent clout, while elevating the fulcrum role of HP and potentially significantly weakening SAP and Microsoft in the long run.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sun needs an answer to iPhone ASAP, lest Java wither on the vine

Why isn't Sun giving away iPhones at customer schmoozes? They need their own Java complement ASAP, that's why.

A lot of times when you go to a Sun Microsystems schmooze event, they larder the request for your attendance with the chance to win an iPod-this or an iPod-that.

I actually got a Shuffle once just after they came out, and got to sit next to Tim Bray for dinner, too. I must have drank too much because I don't recall him saying anything interesting (or any of the other speakers, for that matter), but I sure remember that Shuffle. [Disclosure: Sun took me to a U2 concert in Boston once too, and that was awesome; thanks again.]

Yet, as far as I know, there are no free iPhones, or drawings for said hot new Apple wireless converged device, at any Sun events these days. And that's because Sun was betting part of the farm on the mobile-Java-this and the mobile-Java-that that would collectively need the next big friggin', honkin' mobile-Web-tone switch utility grid to become the best dar tootin' ringtone repository and server on Earth.

Problem is, even as tiny and robust mobile Java runtimes sit eagerly awaiting some killer apps (or widgets) on billions and billions and billions of mobile devices across the global (and no doubt orbiting Mars, too), it isn't Sun's mobile day in the clover quite yet.

Apple has made Java on the client less relevant, and OS X and Safari far more interesting. We await the iPhone third-party party any day.

And so, based on the world as it is, as a mobile developer, are you going to target Java generally or iPhones specifically? It's not a trivial question. Apple could shoot for the moon and get there. And where would that leave Java? Given the complexity that mobile Java has yet to simplify, I'm thinking the iPhone could be a big, friggin' threat here.

As I've said, creating mobile applications remains way too hard. Sun hasn't done nearly enough -- despite all the Java-this and the Java-that on all those phones and PDAs -- to make "write-once, run-anywhere" anything remotely relevant to mobile. Mobile Linux probably makes more sense to more embedded-minded folks when it comes to simplicity. I rest my case.

But, just like Ross Perot, I hear a big sucking sound -- and it is brains and resources being yanked away from Sun's NetBeans extravagance these past few years and on over to the next big mobile thing that Sun's must make work.

Yep, I hear that the brain trust at Sun around NetBeans is being tasked now with coming up with an iPhone platform killer ASAP, something to make Java more fun that a recharged manner mode LG in your front pocket. So call me.

Let me make a few guesses on the Sun Java iPhone killer platform: It will be open source, but not GPL v2, nor v3, nor CDDL; nor will it come with a Microsoft compatibility (and no-sue clause) certificate. A new license is being worked up, the MDDL (Many Developers De-lovely License). It will neither make neither the open source nor the propriety developer corps happy, and may even alienate them both. Perfect.

The Sun Java iPhone killer platform will make the case that Solaris on the mobile device is the right choice, either on x86 or UltraSparc (but you'd be silly not to use the UltraSparc, you cheapo you). Storage will cost extra, but you get a really good deal on the tape backup accoutrement to the Solaris mobile device. A free bedside dock for the tape backup will be available if you buy the stuff online. It runs cooler than Intel, too.

And the iPhone Java killer will also come with its own tools. Yep, they should be out in Q4 '08, and Swing support is assured.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Akamai counters commoditization fears by extending WAN acceleration to business, communications applications

Akamai's announcement this week of much broader acceleration benefits -- to all IP applications, including VOIP -- extends its WAN optimization capabilities into enterprises and out to remote users. The move comes as Akamai is facing perceptions its services are increasingly commodities, and therefore under downward price pressure.

The Akamai IP Application Accelerator service takes Akamai's traditional Web and electronic software distribution benefits to a wider set of applications. Now, client/server, chat, FTP file transfers, and productivity applications that use secure sockets layer (SSL), Internet protocol security (IPsec), user datagram protocol (UDP), and Citrix independent computing architecture (ICA) can gain performance boosts over the public Internet or virtual private networks (VPNs).

By making the offering a managed service, Akamai is seeking to make it simple and affordable for IT providers in enterprises and SMBs to employ WAN optimization amid a growing array of options. [Disclosure: Akamai is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts that I produce and moderate.]

Several mega trends are at work in the market for the extended delivery of enterprise applications and communications services. On one hand, enterprises and service providers of all stripes are seeking to cut total costs by consolidating their datacenters, modernizing their applications and streamlining the platforms they must support. They are leveraging open source options, virtualization, and low-cost hardware and storage options.

On the other hand, adoption of outsourcing, software as a service (SaaS), shared services, SOA, Citrix/terminal services, and more reliance on Internet-based communications like VOIP are making the reliance on fast end-to-end Internet performance more critical than ever. The result is a consolidation on the serving end of the equation, with more need for overall WAN performance, among more end-points that are increasingly farther away from their hosts for critical online applications and services. In other words, enterprises want many types of IP services delivered fast and secure with fewer server locations to more and further-flung users.

What's more, as more subscription-payment based services are added to the mix, the sensitivity to price for total delivery of applications is high. Those seeking WAN optimization services are seeking both high performance and low total costs.

Into this brewing storm, Akamai is taking its globally distributed network and Web-based acceleration services to a new level. In addition to providing market-dominant positions for the delivery of data and software packages and patches, as well as object and streaming acceleration for media, entertainment and ecommerce providers, Akamai is asserting itself between end users and the services they need -- regardless or the origins.

The IP Application Accelerator boosts the speed and quality of e-mail, voice over IP services, and file transfers within an organization. Akamai is also expected to begin offering more services soon that target chatty applications, RIAs, and business process services delivery directly to corporate remote branches. By combing Akamai's ability to cache data from applications closer to remote end users, while also speeding the chatty nature and interface deltas of online applications, a powerful acceleration solution is in the works that aligns well with SOA and increased use of SaaS and enterprise-managed shared services, regardless of the end-points.

A number of architectural and technical approaches can be brought to the mix of problems behind fast and dependable applications and services delivery via the Internet. For example, just as Akamai places its server boxes are ISP locations worldwide -- so that data, objects and content are closer to the browsers that call on them -- Akamai could also place such boxes inside of enterprises and at retail outlets or entertainment venues. More point to point architectural approaches that leverage strategic placement of appliances can also be leveraged.

[UPDATE: For example, a recent new offering by Starbucks and Apple that allows iPhone users who enter a Starbucks outlet to see the music selection played over their iTunes interface -- for possibly buying -- uses Akamai appliance "boxes" at each retail outlet.]

This novel approach combines a local WiFi network with iTunes and the server at each Starbucks outlet, as well as the WAN services, in such a way that innovative entertainment and mobile ecommerce services are now in the offing. I can see in the not distant future where those consumers attending a concert, movie, theater or opera could be given the choice of buying a song, video or the entire live performance itself via their converged mobile device and shopping application via an optimized network. See a show, enjoy it, buy it to keep on the que out to the parking lot. There could be sporting event innovation here too.

Such additional services that help sellers join and innovate with buyers via the mobile and Internet networks is what Akamai is banking on to elevate its value from perceived bit pipe accelerator to commerce and entertainment value-added partner. The same types of services when brought to the enterprise could allow workers to buy and use business services on an as-needed basis -- or, to gain free or low-cost applications and services when paired with relevant and useful advertising or trial services.

The announcement of Akamai's IP acceleration services for enterprises appears only the beginning of a new set of offerings and a wider strategic role for Akamai, and other WAN services providers, over the next several years.

[Disclosure: Akamai is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts that I produce and moderate.]