Enterprises Will Walk, Not Run, to 9i
In this period of shrinking IT budgets and slow enterprise software upgrade cycles, Oracle Corp. could use more customers like Rick Fletcher, director of database technology at automobile research site Edmunds.com Inc., in Santa Monica, Calif.
Just three weeks after Oracle began shipping Release 2 of Oracle9i last month, Fletcher was using the new database to power his data warehouse. Fletcher, who plans to migrate the remainder of his 9i databases to the new release during the next three months, said he expects the upgrade to deliver manageability, security, data compression and availability improvements (see review, right).
But his rapid migration strategy makes Fletcher unusual among enterprise Oracle users. Although the new database offers advantages over earlier Oracle versions, experts expect that depressed IT budgets and normal enterprise caution will mean most users wont migrate to Oracle9i Release 2 until the end of next year or early 2004.
"The leap from 8i to 9i is not that compelling when you look at the economics," said Bob Parker, an analyst at AMR Research Inc., in Boston. "People see value in the upgrade; they just dont see the value in doing it right now."
Experts say many enterprises will wait until the packaged applications they are running on earlier versions of Oracle databases are certified on the new release. Oracle officials said they expect SAP AG to support Oracle9i Release 1 and Release 2 customers running R/3 enterprise software on RAC (Real Application Clusters) with the next release of R/3.
At e-Travel, CIO Geoff Teekema is one executive whos not jumping at Oracle9i. e-Travel, the e-commerce business unit of Amadeus Global Travel Distribution S.A., of Madrid, Spain, provides electronic travel booking and management services to airlines, travel agencies and corporate customers. The Waltham, Mass., company was once owned by Oracle and has an infrastructure built almost entirely on Oracle applications, including databases and Discover Viewer reporting tools, running on Microsoft Corp.s Windows NT 4.0.
Currently, Teekema has 10 Oracle8i databases used to manage the reservation process for customers booking travel and to aggregate data for analytical reporting and business intelligence via a data warehouse. Migration of all those independently managed databases would require replication and could mean disruptions to e-Travels business.
"One of the reasons for us to not potentially upgrade is the amount of work involved in going through and migrating all of our Oracle products," Teekema said.
But for organizations with less reliance on Oracle products, the migration should be easier. Richard Markay, senior Oracle database administrator at Edmunds.com, said the new Oracle Managed Files feature in 9i Release 2, which automatically sets redo logs and adds an administrator GUI, makes the upgrade simple.
For some IT managers, the enhanced XML support in 9i Release 2 represents the most compelling reason to migrate. At research and engineering company Science Applications International Corp., in San Diego, Dave Mattia, an administrator, has migrated to Release 2 and is using it to transfer XML data collected from his Web-based applications to other data stores in the enterprise. Oracle has improved its XML data storage options through an improved XMLType data type and has a new XML repository feature, which administrators can use to access XML data using FTP or Web DAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning).
But for IT managers, such as Teekema, who arent yet using their relational databases to manage XML, its the RAC clustering feature in 9i Release 2 that could end up bringing the most value. Though experts say few enterprises need the technology right now, RAC will enable IT managers to add nodes to scale to meet the sometimes-unpredictable demand placed on Web-based applications. At SAIC, Mattia is building a system for clients in which large servers are being used for development and testing. As he comes up with sizing estimates for production deployment, he said he may bring in RAC because he cannot always anticipate how large his set of users will be in the future.
"If youre going to deploy a system globally, you cant really anticipate upfront how many people are going to subscribe to this particular system," Mattia said. "With RAC, we wont have to spend a whole lot of money on big machines because I can just add another node and grow as I go."
Edmunds.coms Fletcher shares that philosophy. Currently, Edmunds.com runs its databases on the Solaris operating system and is capable of handling its heavy load. But in the future, clustering is a technology Fletcher said he will investigate.
"Most people are kind of hesitant about Oracle9i Release 2, but I believe in the product," Fletcher said. "The benefits may not be obvious right now, but we reap enough return on the dynamic nature of the database and on its scalability that the upgrade has been worth its while."
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at email@example.com.