Oracle's Wide Embrace

Oracle Corp. wants it all. The company is protecting its high-end database business while at the same time it is reaching out for Microsoft Corp.’s (www.microsoft.com) entry-level database server business on the Windows NT platform.

The data management giant unveiled a new program late last month under the name Oracle E-Business Continuity. A mix of new products, new services, and new spins on old products, the program offers a little something to everyone: from departments or start-ups to enterprise data centers.

Oracle (www.oracle.com) officials say the program is the first in a series of announcements this year targeting availability. "Traditionally, high availability has been something designed for the data center to make sure you don’t lose your data during the eight hours that business is running," says Robert Shimp, senior director of product marketing for the Internet platform at Oracle. "Today, with the Internet, even dot-coms or small garage start-ups need to take availability into consideration from the day they open their business."

Dwight Davis, an analyst at Summit Strategies (www.summitstrat.com), says the lower-end aspects of Oracle’s new program are designed to take away some of Microsoft’s SQL Server 7.0 sales for entry-level database applications. In the past, Oracle has come to existing SQL customers with its scalability story: Oracle scales better on Windows NT than SQL, and Oracle scales far beyond Windows NT’s limitations because it runs on Unix -- SQL Server runs only on Windows NT/2000. Now, with its availability program and the recent price cut of Oracle8i, Oracle may be able to compete directly with Microsoft for entry-level customers.

"It’s clearly trying to hit those dot-coms and other start-up companies," Davis says. "The catch has been at the low end of the market where Oracle’s pricing and reputation as being a fairly complex database has hurt it."

Oracle is hoping its availability programs will play well at the data center end of the enterprise as well. In addition to the availability programs, Oracle’s internal efforts to consolidate dozens of data centers around the world into one data center with a backup data center, should bolster the company’s ability to sell Oracle chairman and CEO Larry Ellison’s vision of server-centric computing, Davis explains.

Oracle’s E-Business Continuity program cuts across several platforms, but many components apply to Windows NT environments.

For example, Oracle Parallel Fail Safe, a new database failover product that is supposed to recover failed Web sites in as little as 30 seconds. The configuration is currently available only on the Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Unix platform, but Oracle plans to make it available for Windows NT or Windows 2000 later this year.

Aiming to push high availability into the middle tier, or application tier, of Windows NT e-commerce environments, Oracle is extending its Oracle Fail Safe product to Oracle Application Server. Previously a component of the Oracle8i database server, Oracle Fail Safe now works on top of Microsoft Cluster Server two-node clusters. It allows a standby server to recognize when an active server goes offline, start up, and take over the services the failed server was providing.

Shimp says he expects customers will use the technology in application server farms where a master application server provides load balancing to a number of slave application servers. Customers would install Oracle Fail Safe on a duplicate master server.

The new 3.0 version of Oracle Fail Safe provides more extensive management capabilities than previous versions through integration with Oracle Enterprise Manager.

Oracle Parallel Server (OPS) is being repositioned as an availability solution as well as a scalability product. OPS lets database servers join together to work on a single image of a database. Oracle will begin to emphasize the availability benefits of having four or six database servers working on a database. When one server goes down, the database will still run.

The company also bundles a standby database feature with Oracle8i that allows users to have a second, separate instance of the database at a remote location. The production database regularly replicates its data to the standby database. In case of disaster, the standby database can stand in, Shimp says. "We’re seeing customers beginning to adopt that strategy."