Oracle Warms Up to Web Services at OpenWorld

At its 2001 OpenWorld show in San Francisco last week, Oracle Corp. made several announcements pertaining to Web services; among them a Web services-ready version of the Oracle9i Application Server, and an XML-based database initiative called Project XDB.

With new features tailored around WSDL, SOAP and UDDI, as well as for ebXML and RosettaNet, Oracle9iAS now offers Web services capability on par with other leading J2EE application servers, including BEA Systems’ WebLogic and IBM’s WebSphere. Meanwhile, on the database side, Oracle is apparently working hard to enhance Oracle9i’s XML features. The computing giant hinted at something called Project XDB several times during the four-day event, but wouldn’t offer much detail other than to describe it is an ongoing effort to provide Oracle9i with more functionality for working with XML. By combining robust support for XML in the database and a Web-services enabled application server, Oracle is likely looking to gain a competitive advantage on other leading vendors that have yet to take such measures.

Still, though, Oracle remains decidedly more reserved than its competitors in its view of the Web services concept.

“We think Web services provide a lot of opportunity to make integration easier for companies,” says John Magee, senior director of Oracle9i product marketing. However, he says, at this point in the evolution of XML standards-based computing, there is still a long way to go before Web services enable the sort of seamless integration between internal and external applications many vendors are touting.

Prior to the release of Oracle9iAS version two – the generation Oracle introduced this week at OpenWorld – Oracle was the most prominent application server vendor without support for Web Services Description Language or Universal Description, Discovery and Integration. And while version one of Oracle9iAS did have some features for Simple Object Access Protocol, they were fairly limited in scope.

By adding WSDL and UDDI characteristics to Oracle9iAS, and enhancing the solution’s SOAP capabilities, Oracle has brought itself up to speed with both BEA and IBM – the two vendors ahead of it in terms of marketshare in the application server space. With features for ebXML and RosettaNet, Oracle9iAS is taking on new ground neither BEA nor IBM have ventured onto, yet.

According to Oracle, version two of Oracle9iAS boasts more than 250 new features. In regards to Web services, Magee says one of the more exciting additions is the ability to create static bindings for SOAP. Traditionally, SOAP bindings in an application-server environment are created through the Apache SOAP specification. Magee says static bindings offer better performance than Apache’s method.

In addition, Oracle has opened its application server to a variety of different third-party vendors. Whereas in previous iterations, Oracle9iAS was infamous for its lack of integration support for other leading databases, Web servers and messaging tools, the solution now connects to a number of non-Oracle resources. It supports Microsoft’s SQL, IBM’s DB2, Sybase, and Informix on the database side; Microsoft IIS and Netscape/iPlanet on the Web server side; and Sonic MQ and IBM’s MQ Series on the messaging side. It also provides connectors for applications, including PeopleSoft, SAP and J.D. Edwards.

Mike Gilpin, a vice president and research leader for Giga Information Group, says Oracle’s newfound support for Web services standards and protocols combined with its willingness to hook into a variety of third-party offerings, represents a drastic change for the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company.

“9iAS is now one of the most standards-compliant J2EE servers, a complete flip-flop from thesituation with earlier versions,” says Gilpin in a recent report titled J2EE Experience Report: Vendor Implementations, Pros and Cons. “Customers cite taking applications built in the[previous] Oracle environments and deploying the same EAR file without change to other application servers such as the open source JBoss, which is a reasonably good measure of standards compliance and application portability. Thus, the infamous Oracle lock-in of yore now appears to be gone, at least insofar as the application business logic layer is concerned.”

However, Gilpin doesn’t believe Oracle’s commitment to open its application server through Web services and connectors will help the company make-up any significant ground on BEA and IBM in terms of marketshare in the immediate future. According to Giga, BEA owns 36 percent of the application server market, with IBM a close second at 31 percent. At best, Gilpin estimates Oracle will finish a distant third with a seven percent share by year end.

A free Developer Edition of Oracle9i Application Server Release 2 is available for immediate download from Oracle Technology Network. Oracle9iAS Release 2 Standard Edition and Oracle9iAS Enterprise Edition are scheduled to be available in the first quarter of 2002 and are priced at $10,000 per processor and $20,000 per processor, respectively.

Matt Migliore