Oracle Reaches in Hat and Pulls Out 9i

As thehighlight of Oracle's recent OpenWorld Conference, the database vendor unveiled9i, an offering the company is touting as its “complete Internet deployment”solution. Although only part of 9i is available now -- 9i Application Server --Oracle had much to say about its new database.

To make itsbig announcement to a targeted audience, Oracle selected its OpenWorld user andpartner conference to release news about Oracle9i. In front of a large audienceand simultaneous Web cast, chairman and CEO Larry Ellison unveiled Oracle’s newproduct and a new branding technique. The company formerly used the OracleXmoniker to name only its databases, such as Oracle8i. This time around thecompany decided to package three major products under the 9i blanket.

Thedatabase is known as Oracle9i Database. Also being marketed under the 9i brandis 9i Application Server, which will host Web sites, and 9i Developer Suite,which enables building applications and Web sites.

“We wereintrigued by the rebranding. There had to be a conscious thought to call it 9iDatabase,” says Mike Schiff, director of data warehousing strategies at CurrentAnalysis. “We find this revised branding to be somewhat confusing, at least atfirst. It indicates to us that Oracle is continuing to push its transition fromtools vendor to solutions provider and further establish itself in theapplications space.”

Thebranding change of the database is not the only new thing in 9I, though. Thedatabase engine will include features such as virtual private databases, whichwill enable a single database to contain data from many customers at one timewhile allowing customers to see only their own data. A Selective Encryptionfeature will limit the access that unauthorized users have to highly sensitivedata. Oracle has targeted these and other features toward application serviceproviders (ASPs) that host other companies’ data.

“Software,as it migrates to the Internet, is soon going to become a service. Manycustomers are going to turn to ASPs and online service companies. These onlineservice companies have high demands. We really designed 9i to service ASPs thatwill be hosting thousands of companies,” Ellison said in his keynote atOpenWorld.

Anotheraspect of 9i Database that Oracle is highlighting is its Real ApplicationClusters. In this cluster schema, all machines share access to the samedatabase. “Every machine can access all the data,” Ellison said. “For moreperformance you just plug in another machine. Any application that you wrotealready, all those applications will run much faster. You don’t have toreconfigure, all you have to do is plug.” Despite the fact that Oracle ispushing Real Application Clusters as a main element of 9i Database, the featureis being offered to customers at added cost.

Based onits announcement, however, Oracle plans to include the majority of features inits database at no additional charge. Some of these include real-timepersonalization for e-businesses, transparent portability of data via XML, andwireless portal applications. Other features are aimed to save databaseadministrators time: advice-driven diagnostics of data, routine taskautomation, wizard-driven administration, and self-tuning of the database.Ellison is so pleased with the new offerings, he said, “I proposed calling this‘Oracle Magic.’”

Someanalysts are taking issue with Oracle's statements concerning what will beincluded in its database. “Oracle does not always include all of its promiseddatabase features in the initial release of a new version. For example, itshighly publicized Internet File System (iFS) lagged the initial release ofOracle8i by over a year,” Schiff says. “We are concerned that some of theOracle9i features being highlighted may not be available in its initialrelease.”

These sameconcerns emerge when Oracle’s Express OLAP product is mentioned. The companyhas been claiming that it will integrate its OLAP services into the database,but that has yet be seen. At OpenWorld, Oracle announced that it will add OLAPServices in 9i -- this includes a multidimensional engine using a mixture ofSQL and non-SQL processing, and write-back capabilities. But this offeringcomes much later than Oracle promised.

“Thisannouncement fulfills promises that Oracle has been making almost since itacquired Express in mid-1995,” says Nigel Pendse, analyst and author of TheOLAP Report. "Even if the new capabilities ship on time -- which would bea first in this industry -- it will have taken almost seven years from theacquisition of Express to the full integration of OLAP with the mainstreamOracle database and applications.”

WhileOracle is infamous for missing its planned release dates, the company isconfident about the kind of performance 9i will return. Oracle is so confidentthat it has proposed a $1 million challenge. Ellison said in his keynote thatOracle can get any company’s Web site -- currently powered by Microsoft's SQLServer or IBM's DB2 – to run three times faster if they change over to Oracle9i Application Server and Oracle 8i database. If Oracle can’t fulfill thatpromise, it will pay that customer one million dollars. Of course, any companywishing to accept this challenge will be bound by the fine print -- includingpurchasing the Oracle products and consulting services for 90 days, even iftheir Web site is not faster after 90 days. Plus the customer cannot comment toa third party about the results without written consent from Oracle.

AlthoughOracle holds the lead in the database market, Microsoft has been gaining sincethe release of SQL Server 7.0, with IBM close in the running. Themillion-dollar challenge is, in part, an effort to draw more customers awayfrom Microsoft, one of Oracle’s main competitors. But Microsoft felt thechallenge went too far.

“With thevarious challenges they threw down, they see how we are rapidly encroaching onthe business they have had for a long time to themselves,” says Barry Goffe,group manager in the .NET developer and enterprise group at Microsoft."IBM is gaining and Microsoft is gaining, and they are very scared."

Despite theexpected Microsoft-bashing that Ellison doled out at OpenWorld, the main focuswas on 9I, and in particular the 9i database. The announcement is likely toremain an important issue in the computer industry as well, at least for awhile.

“Regardlessof its actual ship date, a new version of the Oracle database is of high importanceboth to Oracle itself and the industry -- who for the most part either deployit or compete with it,” Schiff says. "Database vendors will soon bepositioning their own offerings relative to Oracle’s newly announcedcapabilities, while current users and partners will be seeking additionalinformation on how best to take advantage of it. This announcement issignificant and it’s going to cause everyone to react.”


OracleCorp., Redwood Shores, Calif.,
Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash.,
IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y.,
Current Analysis Inc., Sterling, Va.,