The Metadata War: Oracle vs. Microsoft

The Object Management Group (OMG), supported by Oracle Corp. and a battalion of other companies, announced the ratification of a new XML-based metadata standard: the Common Warehouse Metamodel (CWM). Approval of the standard is a victory for Oracle in the ongoing battle with Microsoft Corp. ( over metadata standardization efforts.

CWM was developed because of the industry's need for commonly defined metadata. Right now, companies have many databases, many repositories, and many schemas describing the data, says Andrew Watson, vice president of technology at the OMG ( By creating a standard, different data models can be integrated, plus there can be a standard basis for data mining and OLAP across the enterprise. Not only will a metadata standard enable integration throughout a single enterprise, but it will also enable data communication between different companies and their data applications. The purpose of CWM is to do just that: provide metadata with universal definitions so all data applications and stored data can be shared, integrated, and understood.

Oracle ( is one of the main contributors to the CWM standard. In a joint announcement with the OMG, the company announced a suite of metadata management tools due out in beta this fall and a CWM-enablement kit for Oracle's independent software vendors. The tool suite, called OneMeaning, is expected to offer metadata management features that enable integrating, documenting, and querying metadata within a data warehouse. The software vendor kit will allow vendors to build a bridge to facilitate integration between their products and Oracle products. The kit should be available this summer for download from Oracle's Web site.

Microsoft is the developer of the metadata standard called the Open Information Model (OIM). In conjunction with the Metadata Coalition (MDC,, Microsoft helped facilitate a set of metadata specifications that enable sharing and reuse in the application development and data warehousing arenas. OIM was initiated by Microsoft, and it is supposed to be integrated with the metadata interchange specification (MDIS) that is being developed by the Metadata Coalition.

Since 1998, Oracle planned to release a standard of its own. The company teamed with Hyperion Solutions, IBM, NCR, and Unysis in September 1999 and submitted a standard to the OMG for review.

While many companies have not yet adopted the CWM standard, it is likely that they will soon -- and that is one of Microsoft's fears. "This was clearly an attempt for Oracle and other industry players to head off the efforts of Microsoft and its Open Information Model," says Mike Schiff, director of data warehousing strategies at Current Analysis Inc. (, in a recent report.

The OMG approval of the CWM standard will undoubtedly lead numerous companies to adopt the Oracle-backed standard. Some companies, however, are members of both the Object Management Group and the Metadata Coalition.

If two separate standards coexist in the same space, what does this mean for software vendors and IT managers?

"We ultimately expect the OMG and Metadata Coalition standards will converge over time as common partners of both Oracle and Microsoft will push for this and because of the simple fact that each organization -- OMG and MDC -- is a member of the other. Rather than one party surrendering the battle, we fully expect to see a compromise reached, and we eagerly await the Metadata Coalition's reaction," Schiff says.

While Schiff and other analysts say a unified standard will eventually be established, this won't happen in the near future. Many in the industry are waiting to see how Microsoft and the MDC will react. For now, Schiff says the existence of two standards is a better option than the adoption of the many that have been in development recently.

Is the ratification of the CWM standard a clear-cut victory for Oracle in the battle against Microsoft? Or is this just a small win and indicative of many more battles to come? Schiff thinks it's a little of both.

"The ratification of the Common Warehouse Metamodel specification represents another battlefield between industry giants Oracle and Microsoft, and for the moment, Oracle has captured a strategic hill."

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