Hewlett-Packard plans to bundle a trial version of BEA Systems' application server software with every server it sells and supports, starting with those running HP-UX.
The move fills an important gap in HP's own software line-up and could help BEA to gain some market share against chief rival IBM, according to one industry analyst.
Starting this month, HP will include for no charge a six-month trial version of BEA's WebLogic Application Server 7 with each copy of its HP-UX operating system. In the months ahead it will bundle BEA's software with every server it sells and supports, including those running Linux, Microsoft Windows 2000 and its own OpenVMS software, said Don Jenkins, HP's vice president of marketing for operating environments.
The deal follows a decision by HP earlier this year to discontinue its own Netaction family of middleware products, which it said was losing money, and to partner instead with other vendors. The BEA alliance, which includes joint sales, marketing and development efforts, fills a gap created by its decision to cancel those products, said Mike Gilpin, a senior analyst with Giga Information Group.
"Since HP exited the application server business it's important for them to have a close partner, and to have one of the leading vendors like BEA makes a lot of sense for them," Gilpin said.
The alliance should also be a boost to BEA, he said. The Java software maker is locked in heated competition with IBM's WebSphere product -- the vendors each control about one-third of the application server market, according to analyst estimates -- and the deal with HP "could help them pick up another couple of points of market share", Gilpin said.
For its part of the deal, BEA will push HP's OpenView software management platform as the preferred choice with its application server, said Gamile Gran, BEA vice president for strategic alliances. The partnership was first discussed in June, but at the time few details were provided.
In a statement, IBM sought to play down the significance of the deal, calling it an attempt by BEA "to make up for the fact that IBM has rapidly gained market share".
In fact, hoping to steal some of BEA's thunder, IBM is nearing the completion of a similar bundling deal with HP involving two of its key middleware products, namely DB2 and WebSphere, according to a source familiar with the plans. The deal also involves co-marketing and co-development aspects, the source said.
Asked about the upcoming deal, an IBM spokeswoman declined to comment, and HP could not be reached for confirmation.
The moves come as part of a broader trend towards bundling in the application server market. Sun Microsystems, for example, said recently that it will give away a basic version of its application server with its Solaris 9 operating system.
HP this week will also announce plans to sell a new tool called HP OpenView Transaction Analyser, designed to monitor the performance of applications running on BEA's software, Jenkins said. The software "traces transactions through their entire cycles and helps users to identify performance bottlenecks across the WebLogic infrastructure", he said.
Positioning itself as "platform neutral", HP has said that it will also partner with Microsoft for customers who prefer to use that company's .Net software, which competes with Java. To that end, HP said its new analyser product will also be able to monitor Microsoft .Net environments, something it claimed is an industry first.
"This is the first solution by any vendor that will automatically troubleshoot performance bottlenecks in both J2EE and Microsoft DNA environments," Jenkins said.
To use the product, customers deploy an "agent" on each of their application servers, an HP spokesman said. "The price starts at about $US2,000 [per agent] and goes up to around $30,000", depending on the type and size of server it is deployed on, he said.
The partnership with BEA is not an exclusive one, and HP will continue to work with other application server providers for customers who prefer other vendors' products, Jenkins said. "We're making a significant investment in BEA, but we'd work with others," he said.
The version of BEA's application server to be bundled with HP-UX is the Advantage Edition, which is compliant with the latest J2EE 1.3 specification, BEA's Gran said. "It has the full WebLogic functionality except for one feature -- there's no clustering in there," he said.
"Customers can move the product into a production environment but we have a limit of 20 concurrent users," he added. After the six-month trial period is up, customers must decide whether to purchase the product, he said.
"This opens up a whole new set of customer opportunities for us. We believe the HP-UX community really does bring tremendous upside to us," he said.
HP's Netaction application server holds about 3 per cent of the market, said Giga's Gilpin, adding that most of those customers are likely to migrate to WebLogic unless they have an existing relationship with IBM. While IBM and BEA are slogging it out in the market for Java application servers, a broader threat to them both lies in Microsoft's competing .Net platform, he noted.
Besides helping it to find extra customers, the deal makes sense for BEA because the company has been working to tune its software for servers based on Intel processors, as opposed to the Unix systems powered by RISC (reduced instruction set computer) chips that most of its customers use currently, Gilpin said. HP sells a variety of Intel-based servers, and the close partnership should ensure that WebLogic runs well on those servers, he said.