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Has Oracle ousted BEA at HP?

No it hasn’t, but BEA still won’t like it. Yesterday HP announced a tighter partnership between its services arm and Oracle, and specifically Oracle Fusion Middleware. HP will be offering support and services to Oracle Fusion Middleware customers, in addition to its existing ability to resell Oracle Fusion Middleware, announced last October. HP said it will incorporate Fusion Middleware into its service-oriented architecture (SOA) systems integration services business. But where does all this leave HP’s relations with its former preferred middleware vendor, BEA?

After I wrote a speculative piece in sister publication ComputerWire on Monday that asked the question ‘Has Oracle Ousted BEA as HP’s Preferred Middleware?’, I received a mail from HP, reassuring me that, “We do not feel that we have selected Oracle over BEA. We have a very strong and strategic relationship with BEA and will continue to do so.”

But while HP is adamant that this news is no reflection on its commitment to BEA, how can it be anything else?

Let’s look at the context. BEA’s top executives came from Sun. Most BEA software was always sold on Sun’s hardware, but as Sun increasingly competed with BEA with its Sun ONE middleware, BEA sought other partners. HP was about to fall into its lap.

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HP had bought Bluestone in 2001 for $470m as the answer to its middleware prayers. It couldn’t make it work though, and even started giving Bluestone away free. In 2002, HP shut it down, abandoned direct middleware sales altogether and said its preferred middleware provider in the J2EE space was now BEA (it also strengthened its alliance with Microsoft in the .NET middleware space).

If anyone was in any doubt that at one time BEA was HP’s preferred middleware provider, they might want to look back to the time when HP abandoned its own middleware. As an HP web page advising its middleware customers of possible migration strategies explained: “Why did HP choose BEA as its preferred strategic partner for HP Middleware product migration? HP has selected BEA Systems, Inc because it is the world’s leading provider in application infrastructure software.”

In August 2003, Jennie Grimes, director of HP Services’ worldwide enterprise integration practice, said BEA was one of only two HP Services preferred partners for middleware – Microsoft was the other.

By September 2003, BEA was able to trumpet the fact that within just a year, the amount of new BEA software deployed on HP hardware had jumped by 31%.

It was a nice little relationship for both BEA and HP for quite some time. Their joint sales and go-to-market activities also enabled them to unite against their common enemy IBM, which was HP’s biggest services rival and BEA’s biggest application server rival.

In its first fiscal quarter of 2003, 71% of all the software BEA sold was deployed on Sun hardware, and just 5% was deployed on HP. In its second quarter that year after HP services had chosen BEA as preferred middleware vendor, deployments on Sun had dropped to 40% of BEA’s total, and deployments on HP were up to 36%.

The relationship between HP and BEA looked so cosy that many analysts anticipated that HP would take it a step further and acquire BEA. That looks a little less likely now.

Perhaps I am over-egging this. After all, HP’s services arm has been known to work with SeeBeyond (now part of Sun), SAP, Microsoft and even IBM middleware, and in January this year it announced a deal that will see its services arm support the open source JBoss middleware stack.

On the other hand, the latest news from HP and Oracle surely signals the end of the special relationship between HP and BEA. HP insists it still has a “very strong and strategic relationship with BEA”, but there was a time when it was its only very strong and strategic relationship in the middleware space, apart from perhaps in the .NET space where it partnered Microsoft. Let alone what appears from every angle to be an equally strong and strategic relationship with one of BEA’s closest competitors – Oracle.

Perhaps not surprisingly, BEA did not answer my request for comment. But they, like everyone else, can still post a comment below if they so wish, or indeed get in touch directly.
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