Oracle offer will freeze new BEA business, analysts say

Database vendor must also address problem of overlapping product lines

Oracle Corp's $6.6 billion bid for BEA Systems Inc. will effectively freeze the latter's efforts to gain new customers and force Oracle to face questions on how it will handle overlapping middleware product lines, analysts said today.

Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said BEA users could find that some of their investments in the company's middleware technology "will not be as easy to preserve going forward in areas where there's overlap between [the companies'] portfolios."

He did add, however, that "it's possible Oracle could follow a 'kinder, gentler' strategy that would not rationalize as much of the overlapping middleware platforms as would be ideal from a cost-minimization perspective, just to keep those BEA customers happy." He also noted that "many of them are already Oracle customers."

Gilpin added that Oracle may move to segment middleware customers based on the size of the company, pushing BEA products to large firms and Oracle technology to the midmarket.

"If you're a BEA customer at the high end, you'd be OK," he said. "But in the midmarket -- and in some categories where BEA is trying to expand its business, like business process management and Web 2.0 -- those products would be at risk."

Gilpin also noted that Oracle has been able to hang on to customers it gained in its acquisition of PeopleSoft because companies are typically locked in to business applications. However, he said application server users would be more likely than ERP users to look to an IBM or Microsoft to replace their BEA tools if they are not happy with how Oracle handles the acquisition.

Yefim Natis, a vice president and analyst at Gartner Inc., said that the announcement of Oracle's intentions "freezes the market for BEA, which means BEA must be sold" now. He said that other bidders may also jump into the fray to buy BEA, which has suffered several quarters of declining license revenue primarily due to the commoditization of the Java application server market.

"The technology has become easily available, and no one can really charge high prices for it," Natis noted.

He also predicted that while "new purchases of BEA technology will dramatically decrease," current BEA customers shouldn't expect a drop in support. "It will be no worse than BEA support. I don't believe there will be a reason for the installed base to dramatically run from Oracle," he said

From BEA, Oracle will get a "technically better" J2EE middleware stack along with BEA's family jewel, the Java Virtual Machine, he added.

Charles Phillips, Oracle's president, said in a statement that it would protect the investments of BEA customers if the deal moves forward. "Our continuing support commitment has been amply demonstrated with all of our previous acquisitions, including PeopleSoft and Siebel. BEA will be no different," Phillips said in the statement.

Laurent Lachal, senior analyst at Ovum, said in a research note Friday that protecting BEA customer investments is likely to be a high priority for Oracle.

"For a start, it's not in Oracle's interest to get customers to defect," he noted. "It can point to its record with PeopleSoft, where after a very contentious takeover that many customers opposed, Oracle has managed to hold on to and even in some cases enhanced the user base for PeopleSoft products." Oracle, Lachal said, has spent the past three years positioning itself aggressively against BEA based on its database and applications server and an aggressive pricing strategy.

"More recently, when stating its quarterly results, it repeatedly stated that it had not just caught up but overtaken BEA in the infrastructure space, partly because of acquisitions," he said.

BEA officials have not commented on the offer.

James Niccolai of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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