Oracle World Wrap-Up

Database powerhouse touts Oracle Collaboration Suite, introduces next version of 9i Application Server, and announces 9i Database for Itanium

As expected, Oracle Corp. used this week's OracleWorld conference, held this week in San Francisco, to officially announce several new products, including the next version of its Oracle Application Server.

In an unexpected turn, however, the database company also leveraged the OracleWorld event as a bully pulpit from which to heavily promote its Oracle Collaboration Suite (OCS), released in July 2002.

Oracle announced the immediate availability of a new e-mail and collaboration outsourcing service that exploits OCS 1.0. The software giant took aim at rivals Microsoft Corp. and IBM Corp. with the announcement of OCS Release 2.0, slated to ship sometime in the first half of 2003.

Steve Levine, Oracle’s vice-president of collaboration suites marketing, acknowledges that both Microsoft, purveyor of the Exchange messaging and groupware environment, and IBM, which markets the Lotus Notes/Domino messaging and collaboration platform, are well entrenched in the groupware space. According to Radicati Group, a consultancy that specializes in enterprise messaging and collaborative solutions, the two companies control a combined 80-85 percent of the total market for enterprise messaging, groupware or collaborative products.

At the same time, Levine suggests, Oracle can siphon share away from both vendors by exploiting what he identifies as their weaknesses relative to OCS: higher total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) and poor scalability. Because OCS runs on top of Oracle’s proven 9i application server, Levine says it can scale to support tens of thousands of users on a single server, making it ideal for server consolidation efforts in large environments. This has the added benefit of reducing TCO, he points out. “There are a couple of differentiators, probably the key one is how manageable is a certain number of servers [in a Lotus or Exchange environment] versus consolidating all of your e-mail servers and running everything on one server [with OCS].”

Oracle’s argument makes sense on paper, says Radicati Group president and CEO Sara Radicati, but there simply aren’t yet enough real-world OCS implementations to substantiate the company’s case for TCO savings. “I don’t want to say that cost is a [competitive] positive [for Oracle], because I think that has yet to be proven. It’s probable, yes, but we don’t know for sure.”

Although Oracle views both vendors as susceptible to its TCO- and scalability-focused messaging, it sees Microsoft as especially vulnerable. Levine cites a study from Ferris Research that indicates that corporations of larger than 1,000 users typically pay $100 per mailbox to migrate from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2000. According to Levine, Oracle's professional services unit now offers a migration service that can transition existing users of Microsoft’s Exchange 5.5 platform to OCS for roughly one third the cost of a similar migration to Exchange 2000. “We’ve had Oracle Consulting work with a number of customers and be able to put a stake in the ground and say that we can migrate customers to [OCS] for as little as $29 a head.”

For corporations that aren’t undertaking Exchange migrations, however, Radicati Group found that Microsoft Exchange is a cheaper overall proposition than Lotus Notes/Domino over a three year period—by a whopping $2.91.

Levine says that OCS can improve upon this figure by virtue of its suitability for massive server consolidation efforts. He cites an internal Oracle project that currently supports 40,000 users on a single OCS server. Levine says that several of Oracle’s partners, Fujitsu-Siemens among them, have deployed very large OCS implementations. “With Exchange 2000, Microsoft can support a couple of thousand users on a single server. From an Oracle perspective, we’re busy running 40,000 employees [on a single server]. Another of our references is running 47,000.”

Levine acknowledges that Oracle doesn’t currently offer customers much in the way of migration tools to facilitate the transition of Exchange or Notes/Domino user mailboxes and other data to the Oracle environment. “We would argue that the price we put on the product itself is a motivation for migration, and we believe that the features we have are motivation for migration.”

Both Microsoft and Lotus offer a variety of tools to help customers migrate from one another’s environments, as well as from competitive platforms such as Novell Inc.’s GroupWise.

David Ferris, president of messaging consultancy Ferris Research, says that if Oracle is going to compete against Microsoft and Lotus in entrenched accounts, it’s going to have to provide migration tools. “If they in fact succeed in getting the attention of companies, then the development of easy migration tools will be very, very important to their success.”

Levine says that because Microsoft doesn’t currently ship native collaborative tools with Exchange 2000—outside of instant messaging—Oracle will stress the collaborative strengths of OCS, which features an integrated set of real-time collaborative functions, dubbed iMeeting, that facilitate shared browsing, a shared “whiteboard” and other collaborative features.

Microsoft offers a variety of collaborative capabilities in its SharePoint Team Services product, which is available separately from Exchange. At this point, the software giant says that it has no plans to incorporate SharePoint into the next version of Exchange, due next year.

Although Ferris acknowledges that Oracle’s competition is very entrenched, he believes that the database company has a number of positives going for it—starting first and foremost with the fact that OCS is built on top of Oracle 9i. “Both Microsoft and IBM plan to migrate to a commercial relational database over the next five years, but Oracle is already there.”

At this point, Ferris notes, a collaborative suite that exploits a relational database as its message and data store opens up a number of possibilities for IT organizations. “It’s now possible to integrate e-mail with mainstream commercial applications. That doesn’t happen today because the people who write mainstream commercial applications don’t exploit e-mail since they don’t know the e-mail APIs. Here, they just need to know how to write to Oracle.”

Adds Radicati, “[OCS] will most likely integrate well with the whole suite of business applications that are already running in the enterprise, such as CRM and ERP applications, that already run on top of Oracle [9i].”

In the near term, analysts don’t expect that Oracle will siphon significant share away from Microsoft or Lotus. Because the majority of Exchange and Notes/Domino customers still run non-current versions of both products, however, Oracle could compete for customers who are currently mulling a transition. “I think that right now, [OCS] will be attractive for customers who, for whatever reason, are going through a transition. It’s going to appeal initially to customers that have a background reason, such as a merger or acquisition, that’s motivating some change.”

Oracle Announces Updated 9i Application Server

Also during its OracleWorld event this week, Oracle announced a revamped version of Oracle 9i Application Server that it expects to ship sometime during the first half of 2003.

New in Oracle 9i Application Server Release 2 version 9.0.4 are components the company claims can lower the cost of business integration.

Oracle’s 9i revision will include a new Web-based tool set that facilitates business process management, intelligence and monitoring. The company says customers can use the new tool set to manage EAI, B2B, Web services, Business Process Management and Business Activity Monitoring

Oracle’s forthcoming 9i Application Server update also boasts support for the J2EE Connector Architecture, which defines a specification for integration between application servers and ERP, CRM and legacy applications, along with new support for a variety of Web services standards, including SOAP 2.2, UDDI and WSDL.

The next revision of 9i Application Server will also provide canned support for a variety of integration protocols, including EDI, along with support for specialized protocols, such as RosettaNet (for high-tech manufacturers), UCCNet (for retail customers), and Health Level 7 (for the health care industry).

Oracle Announces Availability of 9i for Itanium

At the conference Oracle confirmed that by year’s end it will ship Oracle 9i Database for Itanium 2-based systems running HP-UX. Oracle expects to deliver its 9i Database for Linux and Windows Itanium systems sometime in early 2003.

In addition, Oracle announced the availability of a Developer’s Preview of an Itanium version of Oracle 9i Application Server, Release 2. The Oracle 9i R2 Developers Preview, which is designed for 64-bit Windows systems running on top of Itanium, is currently available from the Oracle Technology Network.