What has Sun done with SeeBeyond?

I caught up with Sun Microsystems yesterday at The Tower Hotel directly opposite Tower Bridge and the imposing Tower of London. The Tower Hotel is a fine example of a missed opportunity: one of the most spectacular views in the world, utterly ruined by the fact the hotel itself is a concrete monstrosity. Possibly the least sensitive building ever to grace its surroundings, it’s from an age I’ve heard architects call ‘English Brutalism’.

To be fair the conference rooms are actually pretty good, the views are indeed stunning, and the coffee is fresh and strong – things are looking up. I was there to ask Sun what they have done with integration and composite application development player SeeBeyond, which it announced it was acquiring for $387m in June last year.

Sun has a rather patchy history in the enterprise software business to say the least. Having seen what Sun did with Forte, Netscape/iPlanet and others, I wasn’t getting my hopes up. I was wondering whether SeeBeyond would end up like some of Sun’s other software ventures and the Tower Hotel: a missed opportunity.

But so far, so good. The first thing I learn is that SeeBeyond has just had a record quarter in Europe, and has seen double-digit growth worldwide. Sun also seems to be taking a very pragmatic view of the buy, describing it as a reverse acquisition, in which SeeBeyond’s strength in service oriented architecture (SOA) and composite application development becomes the centre of Sun’s capabilities and future R&D in that space.

While SeeBeyond’s founder and former CEO Jim Demetriades has now ‘left the building’ with a rather large cheque in his pocket, the other 23 of the company’s 24 senior executives are said to have stayed on, and Sun has actually grown its R&D team.

Meanwhile Sun is gearing up to launch the first new upgrade to the SeeBeyond technology under its watch. What was formerly SeeBeyond’s Integrated Composite Application Network (ICAN) 5.0 is being made a part of Sun’s Java Enterprise System product line, and with an upgrade is to become known as Composite Application Platform Suite (CAPS) 5.1. The SeeBeyond brand is being phased out completely from March.

Sun is positioning CAPS as its offering for customers looking for a platform to underpin their SOA strategies, aimed more at systems analysts and business people in development roles than more technical software developers.

Sun senior vice president Mark Bauhaus told me that CAPS 5.1 will ship by the end of this quarter, with additional operating system and application server support, the option of subscription-based pricing, as well as performance and user interface improvements. Sun is also moving CAPS to a more regular update and upgrade cycle in line with Sun’s other software products.

The CAPS Suite sits within Sun’s Java Enterprise System product line, which as well as CAPS includes Identity Management Suite, Availability Suite, Web Infrastructure Suite and Communications Suite.

Many of the individual elements within the Java Enterprise System have already been open sourced, and the plan is for all products in the portfolio to be open sourced inside of two years, according to Bauhaus. However open source doesn’t necessarily mean free in this case – if you want support, maintenance, warranties and indemnification against any IP threats then there is a licensing fee to pay. “I don’t know a single CIO who has said, ‘great, I can get it free without all those things and save money’ – they just wouldn’t run their business on that kind of model,” says Bauhaus.

Indeed the subscription licensing for the whole Java Enterprise Suite is about to jump from $140 per employee to $200 per employee from June this year, now that CAPS has been added to it. Customers can still buy CAPS, the Identity Management Suite, Availability Suite, Web Infrastructure Suite or Communications Suite individually, at $50 per user for each, if they do not want the whole shooting match. The per-employee pricing is neat.

So far, Sun looks to be doing all the right things with its acquired SeeBeyond technology. As Bauhaus concedes about Sun though, “We’ve usually got the best technology, we just don’t always have the best marketing.”

I’m hoping that like certain of its other enterprise software initiatives Sun doesn’t start to lose interest in SeeBeyond and let it wither away – SeeBeyond was a plucky little player and it would be a shame if its technology doesn’t continue to play a valuable role in Sun’s portfolio. As for the Tower Hotel, withering away would be no bad thing, though I have a feeling its concrete construction is made of sterner stuff.

Read the original story on Sun’s acquisition of SeeBeyond here.

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