Nine years ago Jan Baan, founder and chairman of the now defunct Dutch ERP firm Baan had this to say about middleware: "Middleware is like underwear, I like it, but I like not (sic) to show it."
Well, Oracle clearly likes to show it.
On Monday at Oracle OpenWorld 2005 in San Francisco, the company flaunted a middleware strategy that it says is without precedent.
It also announced Oracle Fusion Middleware -- a collection of middleware offerings that buttress Project Fusion (that began as an initiative to glue together PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards, and Oracle business applications).
Specific Fusion Middleware products include Oracle's portal, identity management, business integration, business intelligence, management products, developer tools, and directory.
These products are all "hot-pluggable," Oracle president Charles Phillips, told several thousand attendees at his keynote. "[Do] you want to use someone else's portal on our stack? As long as it's compliant with the standards you can do that. It [allows you to] mix and match."
Phillips noted that Oracle middleware is architected as a suite of products. "You can install them, you can upgrade them, and you can manage them all together."
But he said customers who want to license only specific components have that option as well.
The suite/component approach, Phillips said, also appeals to Oracle's ISV (independent software vendor) partners, as they don't feel locked into a specific software stack.
At a broader level, Oracle will be adopting the same strategy in regard to its applications. Phillips said his company's ultimate goal to evolve all its applications to Oracle Fusion Architecture, but at a measured pace.
As part of this "open architecture" thrust Phillips also announced that Oracle applications would work with IBM's WebSphere family of app server products once Fusion is implemented. "Engineering work for that is on already."
The Oracle president noted that his company had specialized products catering to a broad range of verticals. "We will take the best of all these functions and features and turn them into services over time, and you can build the composite applications you need. It's a very powerful concept."
But moving from concept to reality, say some analysts, may prove quite a challenge for Oracle, given the colossal product, people and process integration work that's going to be required to assimilate four acquisitions announced this year: PeopleSoft, Retek, i-Flex, and now Siebel.
"The Siebel deal increases the complexity of [Oracle's] company and product integration efforts and next-generation product line strategy known as Project Fusion," cautioned a brief by Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. on the heels of the Siebel acquisition announcement.
The Forrester document said Oracle would need to make Siebel's customer relationship management (CRM) functionality an integral part of the Project Fusion initiative "that has been primarily based on the existing Oracle E-Business Suite."
And that, it seems, is something Oracle is committed to doing.
At a Siebel Town Hall meeting co-hosted at OpenWorld by Phillips and George Shaheen, CEO of Siebel Systems, the Oracle president promised a path to Project Fusion from Oracle CRM, PeopleSoft CRM and Siebel CRM. "We'll take the best functionality of all of those products," Phillips said. "No one need bother about any disruptions to what they are already using."
Further reassurance to customers of the acquired companies came from Oracle's Lifetime Sustaining Support offering, also announced Monday. The decision to offer the lifetime support program, said Phillips, is unmatched in the industry, and is based on customer feedback.
He said customers wanted to know whether they could count on Oracle support for projects that took several years to implement. "So first we said five years, then we said until the year 2013. Then we said...well this seems it's pretty important to you guys...how about lifetime?"
"One stop support for ISVs" is yet another support offering announced at OpenWorld Monday. As part of this program, Phillips said Oracle would select some of its ISV partners and make them part of its support network. "We'll have people trained to support their applications as well, so our partners can leverage the investment we've made in that global support infrastructure."
According to one analyst, integration of Siebel into Project Fusion and the assurance of continued support to its customers was the only course open to Oracle. "They couldn't do it any other way," said Joshua Greenbaum, a principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting. "To be buying this large customer base and not support their current installations would be to shoot themselves in the foot."
He said Oracle had to offer sustainable support to keep the significant maintenance revenue stream from these customers flowing, and also to keep them on board. "So when those customers make an upgrade decision, the first company they turn to is Oracle."