Oracle Trims Line in Increasing Performance

In a feat of marketing reductivism attributed partly to quality-control concerns, Oracle Corp. has boiled down its product line from 75 to two: the Oracle9i database and Oracle9i Application Server (AS), both of which the software giant is aiming at the hosting arena.

The catalog minimization was presented this week by Oracle Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison at Oracle Open World in San Francisco.

The idea is to limit the number of configurations that Oracle software can run on, test it thoroughly on fewer configurations, and rate it for certain types of performance, such as 250,000 page views per second, all of which Ellison said results in higher reliability.

When customers buy 9i, naturally they get the database. When they buy 9i AS, it includes the application server, other servers such as the company's report server, and portal and development tools, according to company officials.

Despite the simplified packaging, customers may still choose which products they want to use, according to Gary Bloom, executive vice president of Oracle, in Redwood Shores, Calif.

"The infinite number of hardware and software configurations is insane," Ellison said. "We think that is the whole problem with computing -- there are too many permutations to make it work."

Conference attendees said there is a great deal of value in such consolidation.

"Oracle is already a solid database, and anything they can do to enhance the performance is beneficial," James White, an IT architect at Lakeview Technology, in Rochester, Minn.

Others expressed skepticism.

"When they consolidate everything into the database, it starts to look like Microsoft Corp. consolidating everything into the OS," said a database administrator who requested anonymity. "And once they have you locked into the Oracle solution, it makes me worry that Oracle is going to stop opening up interfaces so that its products work with third-party tools."

Although the Oracle database is reputed to be a highly reliable and scalable product, both Microsoft and IBM Corp. are increasing competition on the database front.

"Oracle's got the mid-to high-end of the market," said Peter Urban, an analyst at Boston-based AMR Research Inc. "But they still aren't at the very top in terms of scalability."

Urban went on to say that Oracle has few customers with huge, multiterabyte databases, such as NCR Corp., which houses databases with more than 100TB.

"They're going to have to improve scalability because the size of the average user expands every year and pretty soon 1TB will be an average database size," Urban added.

Oracle has lofty goals for its database and application server. Ellison said, referring to the Transaction Processing Council's benchmark, that the aim is to increase scalability to support 1 million simultaneous users, 1 million page views per second, and to achieve 1 million TPC-Cs -- all this by the time the database ships during the first half of 2001. IBM holds the current TPC high: 440,879 transactions per minute.

Despite the advances and expectations, some customers feel Oracle is bringing 9i to market too soon after the arrival of 8i.

"Most of my customers either just moved to 8i -- and it was a lot of work -- or they haven't moved to it yet," said Ron Guyon, president and CEO of IFT, a Sydney, Australia-based consulting firm. "I'll recommend that they hold off for a year or so."

Data with no wires attached

Responding to advances in mobile and wireless technologies, the big three of database vendors have released servers to further their wireless initiatives.

It is not surprising, given market research firm International Data Corp.'s estimates that by 2004, 1.4 billion people will access the Web via wireless devices.

But Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle are following in the footsteps of Sybase Inc. and Informix Corp., both of which brought wireless offerings to market earlier this year.

In late September at the launch of its Enterprise Servers, Microsoft added the Mobile Information Server 2001 to its line. The new product is a mobile applications server aimed at providing corporations, mobile network operators, ASPs (application service providers), and developers with a platform for developing and delivering mobile data services for the wireless devices.

This week at its Open World event, Oracle announced its initiative to target wireless devices with microbrowsers. The key piece of its strategy, Oracle9i Application Server Wireless Edition includes a content adapter, a transformer that prepares the data for wireless devices, and a personalization engine.

IBM also announced this week its WebSphere Everyplace Suite, a server that IBM claims eases the task of connecting applications to new kinds of devices.

Overall, Big Blue said its strategy is to become the provider of hardware, software, and services for e-business, and WebSphere Everyplace Suite is a key part of that.

Although the products are somewhat different, the objective of all the companies is the same.

High ASPirations

Oracle's core upgrades stress its hosting features.

Oracle9i:

* Improved clustering

* Virtual Private Database

* QoS (quality of service, performance, and management* Internet publishingSource: Oracle

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