Users Divided Over Oracle Middleware Initiative

Some users are praising the synergies of a combined Oracle, PeopleSoft, and J.D. Edwards stack—but for others, skepticism about Project Fusion is still the order of the day.

Last week, Oracle Corp.’s ambitious Project Fusion vision got a little bit less murky when the database giant announced a Fusion-centric middleware roadmap that encompasses erstwhile PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards applications as well as several of its own products.

There’s a sense of excitement, albeit one tinged with healthy skepticism, among many PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards users, some of whom give Oracle high marks for vision but question the database giant’s wherewithal and commitment to supporting both platforms.

“Project Fusion is a daring initiative. It is advertised as ‘best of breed,’ and if this can be pulled off [with] JDE Manufacturing, PeopleSoft HRM on an Oracle database with an Oracle toolset … it will definitely set the standard for ERP software,” says Robert Robinson, a business systems supervisor with long-time J.D. Edwards shop Durr Industries Inc. Besides, Durr says, PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards users have market leverage that will help keep Oracle honest. “Oracle is in a position where it has to deliver on its promises, because disgruntled users can go to SAP, and SAP is working hard to siphon off Oracle customers.”

New Middleware Roadmap

Oracle’s Fusion Middleware line-up includes the company’s eponymous Web application server, Data Hub, Business Intelligence, Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) Process Manager, and Collaboration products, along with its application development tools and security and identity management offerings.

Starting this quarter, Oracle says it will certify PeopleSoft’s Enterprise applications for use with its BPEL offering; by Q4 of 2005 it will have certified its J2EE container, portal server, integration server, and identity management offerings on PeopleSoft Enterprise.

J.D. Edwards users won’t be left out in the cold, either. By the third quarter of this year, for example, Oracle plans to certify its J2EE server and portal server, identity-management products, and BPEL Process Manager offerings for use with J.D. Edwards’ Enterprise One.

As for the nuts and bolts of Project Fusion itself—that is, detailed specifics about Oracle’s plans for integrating, melding, or eliminating its own ERP applications with PeopleSoft’s and J.D. Edwards’ dissimilar application stacks—well, let’s just say the database giant is still playing its cards close to its vest.

This, in itself, isn’t unusual, industry watchers say. “[Project Fusion] is by definition murky because, like any development project, you’re at the front end of it and you have objectives of varying specificity, and now comes the hard part -- actually doing the work,” says Robert Kugel, a vice-president and research director with consultancy Ventana Research.

Kugel says Oracle’s Fusion Middleware roadmap is encouraging, but says that—for most users—the devil will be in the details of what Oracle does (and does not) deliver on the enterprise application front. “For many users, by the time [Project Fusion is] available, they will also have a credible option in migrating to SAP. So that’s definitely something Oracle has to be concerned about.”

Users Cautious, Optimistic, and Skeptical

In addition to his position with Durr Industries, Robinson is also a board member of the Big Ten J.D. Edwards Regional Users Group. So he’s seen first hand the extent to which Oracle has, or has not, attempted to reach out to J.D. Edwards and even PeopleSoft customers. In this respect, Robinson acknowledges, the database giant’s outreach efforts, more than any other factor, have helped to erase much of the initial skepticism with which he viewed the acquisition.

“My opinion started to change before Fusion was discussed. When the acquisition was announced, [Oracle president] Charles Phillips reached out to Quest [the JDE Users group]. This marked a 180 degree turn from the relationship that PeopleSoft did, or should I say, did not, have with Quest,” he notes. He also gives Oracle high marks for its pledge to extend support for J.D. Edwards’ Xe product beyond the roadmap initially announced by PeopleSoft.

“[A]s an Xe user who was facing a loss of support [at the end of February this year], I and other like companies were lobbying for an extension of the support date. Many were looking for six months; I would have been happy with a year,” he says. “When Oracle stated that support would be extended for two years, this was a watershed event. Project Fusion was what appears to be a logical destination for three disparate software products.”

Elsewhere, even users who are skeptical about Project Fusion’s prospects for success nevertheless give the database giant credit for trying. “It's the right thing for [Oracle] to do, but it certainly doesn't fix everything they're breaking. No, I don't trust them at all,” says PeopleSoft consultant Bryan DeSilva.

DeSilva, like many PeopleSoft veterans, says Oracle doesn’t realize how difficult it’s going to be to integrate and reconcile three separate application platforms. “Only time will tell us how well they march to the roadmap and how quickly they dump valuable technologies that conflict with their idea of what is best.”

One long-time PeopleSoft pro who hasn’t imbibed the Project Fusion Kool-Aid is Larry Jones, an EnterpriseOne administrator with a manufacturer of aluminum casting technologies. If there’s synergy to be found in the combination of PeopleSoft’s ERP software with Oracle’s best-of-breed database, Jones believes his company would be as good a proving ground as any: His employer runs its PeopleSoft applications on Oracle’s flagship database, after all.

But Jones, like many users, is troubled by what he sees as the different priorities of the PeopleSoft and Oracle application worlds, with the former emphasizing customization and configurability and the latter placing little emphasis on those goals. Because of this, Jones says he’s worried that much of the work he put into tweaking EnterpriseOne will be for naught.

“Over the last six years we have invested a substantial amount of time [and] money in changing our business processes to adapt to [EnterpriseOne’s] software requirements as well as adapting and customizing the [EnterpriseOne] software to conform to our business requirements,” he explains.

More to the point, he argues, Project Fusion might as well be called Project Pipedream. “You can't take a very large, complex application architecture and provide a seamless upgrade path to an entirely new architecture. Nobody has ever done it coming off of one legacy architecture—let alone three,” he says.

Notwithstanding the technology specifics, Jones believes Project Fusion could offer users a more compelling licensing model than competitive software from SAP and other vendors. “What Oracle does promise is the like-to-like license transfer, which will have a substantial impact when the time comes to evaluate ‘Fusion’ versus SAP or [vendor] X’s ERP offering,” he notes. “Keep in mind, however, that Oracle does not exactly have a stellar reputation when it comes to ERP systems … and we're all aware of that.”

Project Fusion is still coming into focus, but users like Durr Industries’ Robinson are excited about its potential. “If Oracle can live up to its promises, the end product will be much better than any one of the companies' products alone. This would position them very well in their battle with SAP,” he concludes. “Those who believe that JDE or even PeopleSoft could be viable in the future have not been paying attention to the contracting software market.”

About the Author

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