Oracle's Ellison 'debunks' Web services

Oracle Corp. Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison slammed Web services as being nothing more than marketing hype and said he believes that specialist companies established to provide such technologies are "misleading" users by telling them Web services can be used to solve application integration problems.

In an hour-long question and answer session with the press, held straight after his keynote address at the Oracle OpenWorld conference Tuesday, Ellison didn't miss a beat dishing out his views. He told the audience how he thinks the government could improve national security, why he is betting his job on the success of Oracle's Real Application Clusters (RAC) option for the Oracle 9i database and why he won't reveal who his likely successor might be.

Likening the IT sector to the fashion industry, the suavely-dressed Ellison dismissed Web services as nothing more than the current hot item likely to disappear. "The idea that Web services solve all known problems is lunacy," he said. "The application integration problem has nothing to do with Web services. If you move customers in an Epiphany database to a customer database in Siebel, it doesn't work. It's like an English-speaking person saying ‘I just called a French-speaking person and I can't understand a word he is saying,' and for someone to say, ‘I can solve the problem; why not call them on a cell phone?' " When asked who is likely to succeed him as chairman and CEO, the Oracle founder said he would take a page out of former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch's book and would not announce a successor until the moment he leaves. In the past, Ray Lane, former president and chief operating officer, and Gary Bloom, former executive vice president of Oracle's system products division, were considered heir-apparents, but they both resigned last year. Now, views are mixed in the industry as to who could replace Ellison.

"I tried No. 2s a couple of times, but that didn't work for me," he said. "If someone perceives themselves as a No. 2, they can get blinded by the limelight. It's not healthy for Oracle to have that kind of management structure. I'd much rather them do their jobs than be here talking to you," he told reporters.

Ellison acknowledged that it was difficult to predict the adoption rate of RAC, which he described several times as being 12 years in the making. The clustering technology allows customers to spread the Oracle 9i database across multiple low-cost servers. Gartner estimates that less than 10 percent of Oracle's user base will use RAC over the next five years because it is complex and focuses on high-end transactions, which may not be applicable for many customers.

"Even if 10 percent of users use it, that's a phenomenal uptake as no one is using this stuff now," Ellison said.

But he added that he believes 50 percent of application customers will use clustering technology in the next two years. "RAC is so dramatic that you have to rethink how the whole industry works. If eight Dell machines can run as fast as an IBM mainframe (and have Oracle 9i running across them), then a lot in the world has changed." He also joked that if RAC doesn't succeed, he would resign and spend his time sailing.

After making his usual digs at IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp. during his keynote, BEA Systems Inc. became the subject of Ellison's venom during the question and answer session. Oracle believes 70 percent of BEA's WebLogic application server users are Oracle database customers and Oracle is now aggressively defending its territory with its own 9i Application Server, of which Release 2 was unveiled Tuesday.

"BEA is living off Oracle's installed base and is living on borrowed time. They are pitching their tent in our backyard and that is not a good place to be. People aren't gonna change databases," he said.

Ellison also claimed that he was misunderstood when he called for the creation of a national ID card system in the U.S., which he made soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. In a radio interview in late September, Ellison said the U.S. government should issue a national ID card that contains a photograph and digitized thumbprint for each U.S. citizen. But at Comdex last month, and again at OpenWorld Tuesday, he said he was misunderstood and that what he meant was that there should be a national standard for the different IDs people have to carry, such as drivers' licenses, passports, visas and pilot licenses.

"Everyone thinks I called for a national ID card," he said. "I believe we should not have national ID cards. We should have a set of standards around IDs."

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