Upgrade issues will take center stage at Oracle show

Debate over whether new integrated Web services, an advanced Java development tool kit and clustering capabilities are enticing enough for users to upgrade to Oracle9i will overshadow Oracle Corp.'s OpenWorld database software conference in San Francisco this week.

Oracle will be trying to woo attendees with its next-generation 9i application server and database products, released this past summer, said analysts. In turn, users will be weighing whether to leave their current database versions to exploit 9i's enhanced capabilities.

Some users have already chosen a cautious approach.

"We do not want to be the first ones to use it and have no application needs for it yet," said Tracy Jones, an IT manager at the U.S. Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M.

Oracle said the upgrade will be the focus of a major marketing campaign. The company also plans to announce that the 9i application server now supports the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and other Web service technologies. Oracle9i will also include a Java-based development tool kit to ease application development.

Economic Drivers

Oracle's somewhat shaky financial performance during the past year gives it an incentive to entice users to 9i, said Carl Olofson, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass. He said he expects that Oracle will "really pull all the stops to get people on the new release" and will be emphasizing things such as scalability and reliability, as opposed to the more "esoteric" features it has sometimes pushed in the past.

Olofson said users should evaluate the experience of other customers and not the vendor testimonials.

Jones agrees. Last month, the lab finished a "relatively painless" upgrade to Oracle8.1, and it plans to move to 9i next year, after the product has had some time to stabilize, he said.

Olofson said Oracle is a victim of its own success: Its database products have been so stable and reliable that customers see little reason to move to newer versions.

To sell to users that are on the fence about upgrading, Oracle will show them how to slash costs by using Web services that can rapidly carry information from Oracle9i databases through their enterprises using Internet protocols such as XML and SOAP, predicted Peter Urban, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston.

Indeed, getting the most out of the 9i enhancements is among the major upgrade-related issues users are wrestling with, whether it's from the perspective of online analytical processing (OLAP) or Web integration, said Dan Vlamis, president of Vlamis Software Solutions Inc., an Oracle products consultancy. Vlamis is also president of the business intelligence special-interest group of the Chicago-based International Oracle Users Group Americas.

Liberty, Mo.-based Vlamis Software has been running 9i since April. One feature that's attractive to the company's customers is the ability to run OLAP queries directly against the database without needing middleware, making the process "seamless," Vlamis said.

Vlamis' company has a particular interest in the development tool kit products Oracle plans to unveil this week to help customers exploit the 9i architecture in new ways. But although Oracle is on the right track in general for product development, Vlamis said, he wants to "see the stuff come out sooner."

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