Oracle launched an attack on both IBM and BEA as it previewed new features in the next version of its application server, due out next year.
With competition between vendors becoming increasingly fierce, analysts warn that users' choice of application server platform is going to be as critical to the future of their businesses as choosing an operating system.
Oracle said better Java and web services integration in 9i Application Server (9i-AS) will force customers away from both BEA WebLogic and IBM's WebSphere.
John Magee, Oracle vice president of application server and tools product marketing, told vnunet.com the company is squarely targeting BEA's installed base.
"If you look at BEA's customer base most of them run in front of an Oracle database, and BEA essentially set up its tent in our backyard.
"And now as this becomes a platform battle we're taking those customers back and offering them more functionality - wireless, portal, content management, business intelligence," he said.
Citing research on 71 current WebSphere users commissioned by Oracle, Magee also attacked IBM's "cobbled-together kit of products" for its complexity and cost overruns.
The second release of 9i-AS is due in the first half of 2003 and will include a web-based tool kit for managing enterprise application integration and web services, and enhanced Java support.
Christine Axton, research director at analyst Ovum, said the choice of application server is now a critical buying decision for IT managers and IT directors.
"It used to be seen as just an extra bit of middleware that provided your application platform for the internet or e-business, but now it is equivalent to thinking about which operating system.
"If you choose one which either dies off or isn't innovated enough then what you end up with is having to maintain something which is effectively obsolete which is actually a critical piece of the architecture," she said.
Oracle 9i-AS is now a serious option for users even though more work is needed on integration with other vendors' applications, while BEA faces a challenge in maintaining its dominant position in the market, according to Axton.
"BEA has a very big market share but now the problem is you have to have the application server strategy and the other bits, including a really good development tools, portal and content management strategy," she said.
Oracle also announced a deal with Hewlett Packard (HP) to bundle its application server on HP-UX, Windows and Linux servers running Intel's Itanium processors. The deal is non-exclusive and follows a similar one between HP and BEA earlier this year.
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