Oracle, Nextra join on European software hosting

Oracle and Nextra AS, the Internet subsidiary of Norwegian telecommunication operator Telenor AS, on Tuesday launched a joint European Web-based software hosting service using Oracle's E-Business Suite software and Oracle9i Application Server and database products.

"The trend for selling Web-based software has been long expected but now it is truly happening. Despite the ongoing pessimism in our industries, this will be an important market for Europe and it will be the most effective way to access software and services online," said Nextra and Telenor Business Solutions Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Morten Lundal in a telephone news conference.

Nextra is responsible for the hardware and the high-speed network connections needed for the service. It has already begun hosting Oracle's software from "nuclear bomb-proof hosting facilities," called "superhubs," Lundal said.

The superhubs are located in Norway, Germany, the U.K and Switzerland and will "be rolling out across Europe based on the success of these first superhubs," Lundal said, though he gave no timelines for expansion.

"In terms of what Oracle software is available, there are 120 possible models in our business suite, which are all ready to go," said Sergio Giacoletto, Oracle's executive vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa in the conference.

In February, Oracle launched a free, online customer care service, It had previously introduced a similar service for sales staff, in August 2000. Though basic services are initially offered free of charge, customers are charged a "small monthly fee" for what Oracle termed "more advanced functionality."

The new venture with Nextra will add that functionality as well as other products and 24-hour a day service for a monthly fee, Giacoletto said.

The service will be aimed mainly at medium-to-large European companies, Lundal said.

"Oracle already has 125 paying customers for similar services in the U.S. We do have some software services that are free, but it's not going to be free forever, don't worry about that. We have been testing the model in various ways," Giacoletto said.

Oracle said it already serves 3,600 customers in Europe, to whom it has been providing localized versions of its E-Business Suite and Oracle9i Application Server and database products.

"Oracle and Nextra share the vision that the provision of online software services by qualified providers will become the standard computing model for customers. The market is developing and companies in Europe want to take advantage of managed online services but may not have the skills or capital to establish their own high-performance network, hardware and software infrastructure," Giacoletto said.

Oracle and Nextra are also offering a "complete incubator environment to aid European ISVs (independent software vendors) in developing and deploying software applications, as an online service built on the Oracle platform. Providing software as a service will open up a lot of new opportunities to businesses," Giacoletto said.

"This is not a paper announcement; we already have the ability to provide a secure environment and already have the first customers," Lundal said.

Two of those customers are IntraFish AS, a Norwegian aquaculture company what is working with Oracle and Nextra to build an e-marketplace for the aquaculture and fishing industry, and Magic4 Ltd., a U.K.-based mobile communications company, Lundal said.

"We had an ordinary proposal to start with and we talked to Oracle/Nextra as well as IBM (Corp.), BEA (Systems Inc.), Microsoft (Corp.) and some others. In fact, we had negotiations from the spring time until now," said Terje Christensson, IntraFish's e-marketplace director.

IntraFish, which already provides Internet-based news for the seafood industry, was seeking to expand and is now in the testing phasing of its new Oracle/Nextra hosted e-marketplace. "The e-marketplace will be launched in six to eight weeks. We have a strong position in Norway and other places in Europe as well as Iceland and we will be expanding into the U.S. and plan to open an office in Seattle next year," Christensson said.

"This exchange will be divided into two parts -- one, the trading of equipment for the fishing industry, something that is new for us, and the other part will be value-added services," Christensson said.

"We felt that Oracle is taking market share with a sophisticated and robust product. The most important thing for us is that we are able to modify the front end of this product and adapt it easily for our industry. Frankly, I think Oracle's solution today is a little bit ahead of IBM's but that can always change from quarter to quarter. But among other things, the Oracle/Nextra product was much more flexible," Christensson said.

"And of course, the total package was competitive regarding price, which was, as always, a big consideration," Christensson said.

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