I just read that Carl Icahn owns a 8.5% stake, worth $426.5M, in BEA. He wants to see BEA sold in order to maximize shareholder value. While I can understand this point of view, I’d like to offer another option. Transforming OSS from a threat to an opportunity could be one step towards a BEA recovery. The recovery would surely help maximize shareholder value.

How would BEA get there from here? First, evolve beyond the “Blended Strategy” to OSS, which essentially entails supporting 3rd party OSS products such as Tomcat, when used with BEA products. Next, get behind Apache Geronimo and deliver a BEA distribution of the JEE5 certified open source app server. To be fair, BEA groks the value of OSS, and has supported various OSS projects. However, BEA’s OSS efforts have not provided them with a way to combat JBoss in BEA accounts. Getting behind Apache Geronimo would address this strategic gap.

Before I go on, let me fully disclose that I am an IBMer, working in the WebSphere Application Server product management team. Our products compete directly against WebLogic Server (WLS). That said, the postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Over the past 3 years, BEA has faced stiff competition from leading enterprise vendors such as IBM. But BEA has also been the target of JBoss. Unlike competing with enterprise software vendors, competing vs. OSS with new product features, improved performance, additional marketing, sales strategies, isn’t always the right answer. For example, you can’t beat JBoss by adding a new higher performance feature to WLS.

Essentially, in certain projects,  BEA customers have said: “I’m looking for a Toyota Yaris (small, cheap, not luxurious)” and BEA has countered: “We can sell you a Toyota Camry (bigger, more expensive, more luxurious – i.e. WLS), but we will also provide regularly scheduled maintenance if you want to drive a Vespa Scooter (fun, cool, for short non-highway distances – i.e. Tomcat) along with the Camry”. JBoss has won in BEA accounts because they offered a “Toyota Yaris”. I am not disparaging any products, I am merely pointing out that different projects require different infrastructure, similar to Zack’s positioning of MySQL vs. Oracle.

To address the JBoss threat, BEA could take a page out of the IBM playbook. We compete with JBoss with WAS Community Edition, built from the open source Apache Geronimo project. Additionally, since we don’t believe in a one size fits all approach, we offer customers choice at the project level, and are able to protect their investments using the breadth of our WebSphere Application Server family of offerings. This has been a successful strategy for winning in the face of OSS competition.

Offering BEA’s own Geronimo distribution would enable BEA to “offer a Toyota Yaris” when the developer or customer seeks a “Toyota Yaris”. Additionally, BEA’s distribution of Geronimo could be used to seed their developer base with a *BEA product* when the developer seeks to use OSS.

BEA executives will surely be worried that the BEA Geronimo distribution will cannibalize WLS revenue. BEA shouldn’t let risk cloud opportunity. Many customers initially choose JBoss for projects that don’t have funding or don’t need the capabilities delivered by higher-value enterprise application servers. By providing an offering that meets the price, simplicity and performance needs that customers evaluating JBoss are signaling, BEA could drive additional revenue and attract/keep developers.

Why do I want to help a competitor? A stronger BEA helps to keep WebSphere on our toes. A stronger Apache Geronimo product and BEA winning more against JBoss will also force JBoss to raise their game. In the end, customers benefit, and that’s why we’re all here, right?

So BEA, move beyond the Blended Strategy. Get behind Apache Geronimo. You can thank me later ;-)

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”