BEA steps up cross-platform march with Plumtree buy

The combined companies would give BEA a strong position in both transactional and collaborative portals, and enhance its composite application strategy.

BEA Systems is beefing up its portal play as well as its cross-platform direction with its announced plan to acquire Plumtree Software, a leading portal provider, for approximately $200 million in cash. The acquisition, subject to regulatory approval, will bring together BEA's strength in transactional portals with Plumtree's strength in collaborative, multiplatform portals.

The two product lines will remain separate entities, according to BEA, and upon close of the transaction, which is expected this fall, Plumtree will become a part of a new BEA product unit. BEA said it intends to retain most of Plumtree's employees.

Looking at the portal market and the issues around adoption of SOA, there is a real natural synergy.
Gene Phifer
Vice President and Distinguished AnalystGartner Inc.

Alfred Chuang, BEA's chairman and chief executive officer, said the Plumtree acquisition fits with the multiplatform direction the company is going in through the AquaLogic line of products. In addition, Chuang said the complementary products will expand BEA's footprint in both new and existing customer accounts. "We're aggressively pursuing growth opportunities; today is an example of that. Chuang said 50 percent of Plumtree customers will be new customers to BEA.

According to BEA, WebLogic Portal is the fastest growing product in the company's portfolio. "The portal is becoming the point of integration in the enterprise," Chuang said.

Gartner Inc. puts both BEA and Plumtree in the leaders'quadrant for horizontal portal products, along with IBM, SAP, and Sun. This leadership is indicative of how the portal market has shifted. Originally dominated by pure-play vendors, it is now led by application and infrastructure platform vendors.

Plumtree "was [the] last major pure-play to survive," said Nathaniel Palmer, chief analyst at Delphi Group in Boston. "Plumtree created the market for the corporate portal. Since then the market has shifted and the portal is really seen as infrastructure."

"Plumtree is an innovator in the portal software market," said Brian McDonough, research manager for enterprise portals and composite applications at IDC, Framingham, Mass. "They've been successful in selling to business users; BEA's strength is the IT department."

The portal market has been fast-growing, and the large companies set their sites on it early on, McDonough said. However, the ability to handle unstructured data and offer collaboration capabilities has been the forte of companies like Plumtree. "There is a need for business users to have broader access to unstructured information. The larger software markets have always been transactional; they don't handle unstructured data well. That's where the big hole in the enterprise software market has been."

Both Plumtree and BEA had been pursuing composite application strategies, and position the portal as an important element in a service-oriented architecture (SOA).

"Looking at the portal market and the issues around adoption of SOA, there is a real natural synergy," said Gene Phifer, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn. Using a portal can be a valuable first step to implementing an SOA, he said because portals "to a large degree have been built around service orientation" and are "early adopters of Web services."

Plumtree's ability to run cross-platform on both J2EE and .NET fits with BEA's direction, according to the company. "It will be an interesting play if BEA truly becomes a multiplatform company," said Delphi Group's Palmer. "It seems inevitable given the commoditization of the application server."

Left unsaid by BEA officials was how or if Plumtree would fit into the AquaLogic stack, and the company said it would not comment on specifics related to that at this time.

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"When BEA introduced AquaLogic, it was more of a product roadmap, with gray boxes where they wanted to put other things," said Dennis Byron, a vice president at IDC. One of those pieces was a portal. "With AquaLogic they're doing open choice on top of .NET and J2EE. Here's an open choice portal [Plumtree] that fits the bill on paper. From my perspective I think it makes sense."

However, said Delphi Group's Palmer, "The Plumtree stack doesn't fit neatly the way some other Java object would, even though it's SOA based. It's a complete environment that will work on it's own; it's not an architecture to be decomposed to fit neatly into the AquaLogic stack."

Palmer suggested that 18 months from now "this could be BEA's midmarket play. "I see it more as a horizontal extension versus filling up a horizontal stack. I see it as another way to do SOA."

If a company in the midmarket is looking to do SOA, they may not have the Java skills, Palmer said, "but they could use their VB skills and build composite applications that way. That's exactly what Plumtree does."

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