Aiming to bring decision support to the masses, database vendors have been stuffing as many features into their core database engines as possible lately in an effort to create integrated BI (business intelligence) platforms.
"The idea is more and more [functionality] actually in the database, with less and less surrounding the database," said Mike Schiff, vice president of e-business and BI at Current Analysis Inc., a Sterling, Virginia-based market research firm. "The result is that it increases performance because of the strong database engine."
Oracle Corp., in Redwood Shores, California, announced last week that it is folding its OLAP (online analytic processing), data mining, and ETL (extraction, transformation, and loading) tools into the database engine with the release of 9i, expected in the second half of next year. The goal, according to company officials, is to make BI tools accessible to more users.
"The new BI user is everyone," said Jagdish Mirani, Oracle's senior director of data warehousing product marketing. "I don't think we'll see many applications in the future that don't have BI."
And traditional BI vendors, such as Cognos Inc., Business Objects SA, Informatica Corp., and MicroStrategy Inc., have been working during the last several months to make BI easier to use.
Oracle's vision involves its 9i database as the centerpiece of a conglomeration of integrated back-end applications, such as ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management), all of which are accessible to BI tools through a portal interface. The portal itself constitutes what Oracle calls Portlets, or views into back-end data sources.
Oracle is providing what it calls the whole solution, and IBM Corp. for its part is partnering with a number of vendors, such as Hyperion Solutions Corp., to provide an end-to-end solution of its own. And IBM is moving BI tools into the core engine.
"We capitalize on end-to-end hardware and software, and the coupling there is very tight," said Harry Kolar, IBM's director of BI strategy. "DB2 is certainly at the heart of the overall BI platform."
Although most of the database vendors are working toward a database-centric BI offering, analysts said that Oracle has a lead.
"It gives Oracle a differentiation point because the other vendors don't have Discover, reporting capabilities or smart caching," said Peter Urban, a senior analyst at AMR Research Inc., in Boston.
Rivals Sybase Inc. and Informix Corp. lag somewhat in this area, analysts said. Microsoft Corp. has folded an OLAP server into its SQL Server, and IBM and NCR Corp. have made similar moves, with the goal of adding BI into their database.
But analysts also expressed caution about the migration path from Oracle's current offerings to those in the forthcoming 9i platform.
"The migration path is shrouded in the fog of technology," said Lou Agosta, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. "Once you give users a power tool, they don't typically react well to being told they have to make a full-scale migration to the next version."