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JDJ Flashback to 2004: Exclusive Interview with BEA Founder & CEO Alfred Chuang

Java on the Server Is What Matters, Says Chuang

"it's not Java on the desktop that is going to keep Microsoft from owning all computing, it's Java on the server. The better enterprise Java gets, the more powerful applications can be, and there's nothing Microsoft can do to get in the way of that."

First of all let me thank you, Alfred, for taking the time to talk to us at JDJ...

JDJ: Let's go back to that day in October 2001, when you stepped into BEA as its new CEO. What was your perception of the Java industry at that time?

AC: I was tremendously excited by the capabilities of J2EE, and the huge acceptance it had already achieved in the enterprise. For the first time in enterprise software there was a realistic hope that a standard software platform for enterprise computing could be adopted. J2EE had already proven its suitability for mission-critical applications, and competitors like IBM, Sun, Oracle, and BEA were able to put aside their differences enough to make J2EE a viable and powerful standard. I was also very proud of BEA's leadership role in driving J2EE forward.

As much as I was excited about the potential of enterprise Java, I was well aware that the platform was still too difficult for the broader community of developers to adopt en masse. Changing that became one of our top priorities.

JDJ: Nearly two years on, how has your view of the Java industry changed?

AC: The Java standard has continued to move forward, but at too slow a pace. We're committed to the Java Community Process, but we're unhappy that it takes as long as it does to get innovations added to the standard.

Look, we have a huge lead on .NET, as far as what is possible to put into production for a mission-critical application at a customer site today. They are years away from catching up. But the community takes that too much for granted. Microsoft's powerful marketing machine can convince many people that they are catching up or even passing J2EE. So a one- or two-year lead isn't enough. We cannot be complacent.

This is why we work so hard to drive our innovations into standards. There are many customer problems yet to be solved. Customers don't want proprietary solutions, but they do want their problems solved now. We have no choice but to innovate fast, give those innovations to our customers, and simultaneously drive our innovations into the standards.

I also think that the Java camp wastes too much time attacking Microsoft. In the real world, customers are going to have both Java and .NET in their organizations. They have to make these technologies work together. They aren't interested in hearing anyone trash the competition. They are much more interested in hearing how we'll be able to work well in a heterogeneous environment. So we've taken great care to make sure we have great interoperability with Microsoft. In many ways, customers realize that WebLogic's proven mission-critical capabilities and openness make it the ideal on-ramp to the enterprise for the departmental .NET applications that they have.

JDJ: Outside of Sun and IBM, BEA is seen as the single biggest Java player in the industry. You run a billion-dollar company. This is quite a success story for a pure Java company, yes? Where do you see the future revenue of BEA coming from?

AC: Yes, I agree - it's a rare $1 billion company that has been able to go toe-to-toe with the IBMs of the world and win. We're proud of that. It's a success story made possible by BEA's ongoing ability to identify trends well in advance, deliver the best technology, and work well with a broad expanse of great partners. Simplistically put, yes. But over the years, that formula, well executed, has brought us this success.

We are using that same formula as we look to drive future revenue. Specifically, we identified the need for and market shift toward application platform suites over two years ago - and we've delivered a product in line with that vision, WebLogic Enterprise Platform 8.1. Each of the components of the platform are best of breed in their categories - application server, integration, portal, security, etc. - and the credibility we get from that is essential. We see our business growing as we continue to gain market share in these individual markets but, more important, as the platform as a whole continues to gain acceptance, every quarter we see the percentage of customers who are buying the whole platform go up. Customers really understand the value of a service-oriented architecture and the notion of an application platform suite.

JDJ: Why does a company buy from BEA? Are they looking for a Java application server, or are they looking to you for guidance on building and deploying their enterprise applications?


AC: Enterprise customers never just buy a product, whether it's an application server or anything else. They are looking for a partner they can trust.

They buy BEA because they trust our products - BEA technology has proven itself across 15,000+ customers, in some of the most demanding IT environments.

They buy BEA because they trust our independence. We aren't tied to any one operating system, database, hardware platform, etc. We work well with all of them, because we have to. Customers trust us because we don't have any agenda other than application infrastructure.

Finally, they buy BEA because they trust our ability to help them simplify their IT environment. They know that our technology is integrated and interoperable. We don't introduce unnecessary complexity into IT, unlike our competition. We've done the hard work of integrating and converging a complete application platform suite. Our competitor makes the customer responsible for that work, and counts on that complexity to sell services.

Our competitor sends out 54 CDs for what we deliver on just one, even though we provide more functionality. That's because they are integrated in brand only, and their "platform" is an assemblage of hundreds of disparate products acquired over the years and shellacked with the same veneer.

Complexity is contagious. A customer inherits its vendor's complexity; and complexity is one of a customer's biggest pain points right now. In response, we've made it simpler for customers to develop and deploy by giving them an integrated product, an easier-to-use tool in WebLogic Workshop and standards-based technology. Enterprise software is not going to be easy any time soon, but it can be a lot easier than it is today.

JDJ: When your sales force is in the field, are they still fielding questions regarding what/why Java? Is the awareness of Java's ability in non-IT verticals well known?

AC: We don't get many questions about "why Java" today. The strength of the platform is well known. It is the enterprise standard at this point - that's true for all industries we sell into. To that point, we're in 100% of all global Fortune 500 financial securities, telecommunications, health care, pharmaceuticals, and network communications companies. So Java is pretty well known.

Customers were looking for standards-based technology, because their environments were so heterogeneous - they found that in Java.

JDJ: To date, what do you see as Java's single greatest success?

AC: Without a doubt, it is offering IT their first ray of hope that there will be a standard software platform for the enterprise. Java provides unity in a truly cross-platform environment. No other enterprise standard delivers that.

Imagine how hard it is to get powerful competitors like IBM, Sun, and BEA to work well together. That's a testimony to the promise of enterprise Java.

JDJ: Let me give you the keys to Doc Brown's DeLorean time machine so you can take a trip back in time. Which event in Java's (or BEA's) history would you most like to change?

AC: The mistake I would change is that too much time and energy has been wasted obsessing about Java on the desktop. Look, if we do the right things on the enterprise platform, the desktop almost doesn't matter. Ironically, it's not Java on the desktop that is going to keep Microsoft from owning all computing, it's Java on the server. The better enterprise Java gets, the more powerful applications can be, and there's nothing Microsoft can do to get in the way of that. Fighting them on the desktop is not going to do anyone much good.

JDJ: Sun has been heavily criticized of late for apparently abusing the Java brand name and mislabeling non-Java software as Java. Do you think this is a risky strategy for Sun? Could it cause problems for the community?

AC: Absolutely. This is not what Java is about. It's so contrary to the spirit of what the Java community has been about, it almost feels unethical.

However, it doesn't matter that much. Sun has already ceded thought leadership on enterprise Java to BEA and others. Look at where the innovations are coming from. Take WebLogic Workshop, for example - that's real innovation. BEA and IBM share the overwhelming majority of the application server market. Customers who are deploying enterprise applications on Java today are doing it on either WebLogic or WebSphere, period.

It's ironic, actually, that Sun is taking the approach they are with the Java brand. For a company that's been so critical of Microsoft, what they've done is more reminiscent of Microsoft than it is of the company I've always thought Sun was. They have been a visionary leader in the past. I'm optimistic that they will be a visionary leader again in the future. But you don't get there with these kinds of tactics.

JDJ: You have invested significantly in building out the BEA suite of development tools. Why was this move necessary when the tools market was already quite saturated? What was missing that you needed to fill?

AC: We saw an opportunity to address a problem that other tools weren't addressing: unifying a development framework across every aspect of an enterprise application, from the business analyst to the J2EE expert. Java simply needs to be easier; if we are ever to achieve in the enterprise the economics and interoperability that the desktop has achieved, Java has to be easier. We delivered that prospect with WebLogic Workshop, in large part by breaking down a lot of the traditional barriers between different developers. Ultimately, customers will decide what role they want BEA to play and what role they want other software vendors to play. Our goal is to work in concert with the other tools vendors. We have made our platform as extensible as possible. Controls are just one example of how we've done this.

More Stories By Alfred Chuang

Founder, CEO, and President, BEA Systems, Inc.

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