The next release of Oracle's flagship database is "magic," Oracle boss Larry Ellison told a packed crowd of customers.
Ellison formally unveiled the 9i release, notable not only for its new clustering technology and array of self-tuning features, but for being tightly linked with the new release of the company's Oracle Internet Application Server (IAS).
The term '9i' includes both of these products, he told customers on the second day of the company's annual user conference. Both the database and the application server have been radically redesigned to meet the performance, reliability, and growth of software that will be sold as an Internet service, instead of as a CD-ROM installed on a corporate network.
Perhaps referring to the poor reputation and low acceptance of previous versions of IAS, Ellison said "It's inconceivable to me that any of our customers will not have both products. If you don't have our application server now, you will."
Ellison said Oracle was offering a million-dollar bet to customers. By using the new 9i Internet Application Server and the existing Oracle 8i database, commercial Web sites now using Microsoft or IBM software triple performance or Oracle will pay the site owner $US1 million. Oracle itself used the same software to boost the performance of its online Oraclestore by 50 times, he said.
He also warned developers and DBAs that the 9i releases were the first step in eliminating large areas of choice that they now have in configuring Oracle software products. Today, each user creates what is in effect a unique Oracle configuration that is difficult and costly to support and maintain. "This is a fundamental flaw in the way [all] software is sold," he said. "We want our customers to run the identical software configuration."
Oracle is changing this model in two ways. One is by adding more automatic tuning features into the database itself, so the database can configure and maintain itself. Secondly, Oracle is working with hardware and operating system vendors to create ready-to-run packages of Oracle software, with specific brands of computers and disk arrays. These configurations will be tested and certified and guaranteed to deliver particular performance levels.
He told attendees he wanted to use the term "Oracle Magic" as the name of the new database release, which he said is due for general release in March 2001. "But they told me, 'no, we couldn't do that. People might get the wrong idea,'" he said.
Clothed in a beautifully cut gray suit in lieu of wizard's robes, Ellison along with Jeremy Burton, Oracle's senior vice president of product marketing, strolled through a series of onstage demonstrations designed to show off the 9i database features, especially the new clustering technology, usually at the expense of rivals Microsoft and IBM. Ellison insisted the only application that can run on Microsoft's NT clusters is a software test called the TPC Benchmark, designed to measure transaction processing workloads. Sure enough, Burton said the only application they were able to find for testing was...the Benchmark.
"Microsoft clusters are an ingenious design because every time you add a machine, the cluster becomes less reliable," Ellison earnestly told his audience. "That's because each machine is a single point of failure [for the entire cluster]. It's a totally fraudulent configuration."
At a press conference after his keynote, Ellison smoothly handled reporters questions, which ranged over such subjects as a recent decline in Oracle's stock price, to the two body guards flanking the stage, to a quote attributed to PeopleSoft President - and former Oracle executive - Craig Conway, who allegedly described Oracle as a "sociopathic company" with a corporate culture addicted to lying.
Ellison at first shrugged off the last question saying he had no idea what motivated Conway to make it. Moments later he returned to the comment, saying, mildly, that it was irresponsible.
One reporter drew attention to the bodyguards, wondering if he should be careful in what questions he asked. It was the kind of question Ellison relishes. "I can't think of any question that would provoke a violent response," he assured the reporter, then paused for a beat. "From them. It might provoke one from me."
He shrugged off questions about the stock market with a boyish charm that is now probably unconscious. "I'm just a software engineer," he said, smiling engagingly.
He agreed that Oracle's model of integrating its software products into an interoperating suite owed much to Microsoft's success with the Microsoft Office suite. "Does anyone remember the PC software industry?" he asked. "It doesn't exist anymore." Customers clearly wanted applications that worked smoothly with each other, and it sounded the death knell for scores of companies. "Are we trying to do with enterprise applications what Microsoft did with Excel and Office? You bet," he said.
In response to another question, Ellison said the company's transition after the abrupt departure recently of long-time Chief Operating Officer Ray Lane was smooth. He subtly downplayed Lane's role in the company, pointing out that only the sales operation reported to Lane, and that it now reported to Ellison.
Asked about published reports that some customers thought Oracle's decision to offer pricing based on CPU capacity of the server was "highway robbery," Ellison pointed out the company, unlike rivals, offered customers a choice of pricing by capacity or by named user. "Our database business grew 32 per cent last quarter, more than IBM or Microsoft," he said. "So by and large, I guess the customer really like [capacity pricing]."