Oracle Unveils New BI Bundle, More on Data Hub at OracleWorld

With a new branded BI suite and a Data Hub-centric view of information integration, Oracle is getting serious about business intelligence

In the BI world, Oracle Corp. has long had the makings of an 800-pound gorilla. After all, its database is a ubiquitous presence in enterprise environments, particularly in large, global 2000 organizations. More to the point, it fields a more-or-less complete suite of BI offerings, including ETL, data warehousing, ad hoc query and analysis, and even reporting entries.

One thing holding it back, of course, was the fact that its BI tools were closely integrated with its J2EE-based Oracle application server. For many would-be adopters, this made Oracle’s BI story a less-than-straightforward proposition, especially when compared to competitors such as Microsoft Corp.

At its Oracle OpenWorld conference, held in San Francisco last week, the database giant announced plans to decouple its BI tools from Oracle Application Server. Customers can still acquire them by purchasing Oracle Application Server 10g Enterprise Edition, but the company will also offer its BI tools as a new bundle, called Oracle Business Intelligence 10g.

Oracle’s BI tools unbundling isn’t quite as revolutionary as it sounds. After all, notes Mike Schiff, a senior analyst with consultancy Current Analysis Inc., the the company's BI tools haven’t always been tightly coupled with Oracle Application Server.

“While Oracle is portraying this as an unbundling move, it was not that long ago that Oracle offered each of its BI tools as separate products,” he writes, adding: “Prior to bundling its tools into two core offerings, the Oracle Database and the Oracle Application Server, Oracle sold Oracle Discoverer, Oracle Reports, and Oracle Express as separate, and sometimes competing, products.”

What’s more, Oracle once offered its Warehouse Builder ETL offering as a standalone tool, although for the last several years Warehouse Builder and Oracle’s BI Beans technology have been sold as part of the company’s Internet Developer Suite.

Even though it isn’t exactly a new idea, Schiff believes that Oracle’s new bundle could cause a ripple or two in the marketplace—price permitting, of course. “What Oracle is accomplishing with Oracle Business Intelligence 10g is to bundle several of BI and ETL offerings into a new package that should appeal to Oracle database shops that do not utilize the Oracle Application Server and in the case of Oracle Warehouse Builder, the Oracle Internet Developer Suite. However, as pricing details have not been disclosed, the cost savings is not yet known.”

At the Hub of BI

Oracle’s new BI bundle was but the first drop of a BI deluge at this year’s Oracle OpenWorld show. Elsewhere, Oracle disclosed upcoming enhancements to its Warehouse Builder ETL tool, such as integrated data profiling capabilities and improved support for populating non-Oracle targets. The database giant also touted a new content management offering, called Oracle Files 10g, that’s slated to ship early next year. Oracle officials said that Files 10g will include tools for document management, file management, and workflow management.

Over the course of several OpenWorld keynotes, Oracle officials also touted the company’s approach to data integration and consolidation—the function-specific Data Hub, the first of which (a Customer Data Hub) Oracle announced last February (see http://www.esj.com/business_intelligence/article.aspx?EditorialsID=6971&t=y).

In his keynote address last Monday, Oracle president Chuck Phillips positioned the Data Hub as “a live repository of information, be it product information, customer information, what have you, that speaks in real time to all of your legacy systems, all of these feeder systems.” In essence, Phillips said, a Data Hub creates a “single system of record” for disparate enterprise data sources.

It’s in this respect, said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison during his Wednesday keynote, that most BI vendors are missing the point. “I really don’t think business intelligence tools—buying them doesn’t solve your business intelligence problem,” he argued. “The business intelligence problem is [that] the underlying information about your business is chopped up into lots and lots of little pieces stored in lots and lots of little databases all around the world. Data fragmentation is the bigger barrier … not your business intelligence tools.”

A data hub is not a data warehouse, Ellison assured OpenWorld attendees. “It is not simply an extract of a lot of these systems on a periodic basis stored into a data mart or a data warehouse,” he said. “The data hub will help you keep your data consistent and up to date. It will, if you will, create the illusion that you have all of your data in a single global database before you actually get there. It won’t grant all of the benefits of a single global instance. The cost savings of consolidating these databases aren’t going to be delivered just by going to a hub, but the information benefits will be delivered.”

In response to a question from an OpenWorld attendee, Ellison attempted—less successfully—to differentiate between Oracle’s Data Hub and a real-time operational data store. “You make the decision when you’re setting up the data hub whether you want to simultaneously and synchronously update the Siebel system and the data hub at exactly the same time or asynchronously” he said.

Separately, Phillips also touted Oracle’s Data Hub approach in his OpenWorld keynote appearance. In fact, Phillips claimed, Oracle’s Customer Data Hub has proven so successful that the database giant plans to introduce other application-specific data hubs in the future.

“We see a need for bringing this information-quality concept to multiple disparate applications,” he said. “We’ve come out with more hubs, and this is going to be a fundamental piece of your architecture in the future we believe. So the Product Data Hub will do the same thing [as the customer data hub] with product data.” Other proposed versions include a Citizen Data Hub, designed for “government organizations that are trying to track citizen interactions across multiple types of services,” a Financial Data Hub, for consolidating financial data, and a Financial Services Accounting Hub, Phillips said.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.