The Year in Database Land

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2004-11-26

The Year in Database Land

This years going down in database history as being notable for a few things: the open-sourcing of any database that blinked, and Oracle leaving tire marks on the road to PeopleSoft.

Oracle won the battles

Oracle, in its tireless pursuit to acquire PeopleSoft, grabbed an ungodly amount of attention this past year. Drawn-out court battles had seismic consequences and invaluable insight into how the two companies conduct business.

For example, Oracle Executive Vice President Keith Block admitted in videotaped testimony that the company cuts software costs by as much as 70 percent when competition is fierce enough to warrant it. Anybody who went into licensing negotiations with Oracle this past year and didnt use that information should now be kicking themselves.

In the end, courts in both the United States and the European Union declined to block the deal, in spite of the U.S. Department of Justice having used a good portion of creative imaging to cook up terms nobody had ever heard of before: Remember "high-function software"? With one antitrust obstacle out of the way and one to go, the only other things in the way were the prickly and devotedly anti-Ellison Craig Conway, the poison-pill provision and the Customer Assurance Plan, the last two of which can spoil the deal by tacking on millions to the final price.

PeopleSoft did Oracle the kindness of dumping CEO Conway, citing a lack of confidence following court admissions that Conways statements to shareholders had been somewhat "influenced"—shall we say—by his ardent, religious devotion to anti-Ellison-ism.

After the DOJ gave up the battle and Conway was canned, the European Commission followed suit, caving like a wooden shack with a terminal case of termites and thereby leaving the field clear of antitrust obstacles.

Now were in the endgame, and as the year draws to a close, so too does this takeover attempt. Results of this past weekend were hotly anticipated, as PeopleSoft shareholders voted with their feet on the Oracle bid. Vote they did, with over 60 percent tendering shares by Fridays midnight deadline.

Next up is either a spring 2005 proxy fight, as Oracle tries to take control of PeopleSofts board and forcibly remove the poison pill provision, or the Delaware Chancery Court will do the job for Oracle with its decision to invalidate the provisions at the end of the month.

Oracle has been winning like mad, but so do bullies. I recently talked to a VAR about how tough it is to work with Oracle, since its sales force is so rambunctious. The company has to turn that around, no matter what happens with PeopleSoft, but working better with customers and partners would especially work well for Oracle, as it will be seeking to smooth integration with PeopleSoft following a successful merger.

Kudos goes out to Oracle insiders who want to turn Oracles reputation around. Oracles Rauline Ochs, group vice president for North America Alliance and Channels, is high on that list. In the past year, Ochs championed an initiative to release a set of guidelines on how sales staff should play nice with partners by, among other things, identifying who partners are and working more cooperatively with them.

Oracles smart enough to know what motivates its coin-operated sales reps, though, so the plan is to reward sales staffer role models who grow the channel. The cash awards werent big enough to buy a house in Redwood Shores, but hey, even a whiff of money is still a good motivator.

Next Page: Open-source database mania.


-source mania"> Open-source mania

Beyond Oracle-PeopleSoft, in 2004, you just werent anybody unless you were announcing the open-sourcing of a database that the market had pretty much forgotten about.

True, from an open-source database perspective, the year started pretty much as did most recent years, with MySQL making the big splashes. This year, it did that by putting grid capabilities into its database—a true enterprise feature. The typical round of hubbub followed, with analysts saying that the big database vendors should be scared, and Oracle saying, in effect, please, give me a break.

The big database vendors may have scoffed, but the numbers showed that everybody was hopping on the open-source database bandwagon. Forrester in the spring released a survey that showed that 60 percent of those surveyed were using or planned to use open-source technologies. Of those surveyed, 52 percent had their eyes on MySQL.

Things got far more interesting when Computer Associates unleashed the code for Ingres R/3, however. Although database experts were a little baffled by the announcement, not being quite sure exactly what was being released, the arrival of a robust, time-tested relational database must eventually be a good thing for the open-source community.

It sure cant hurt CAs market share, either. To make sure that the release didnt fall flat, CA launched a $1 million challenge, soliciting developers to come up with programs that will facilitate the migration from other databases and onto Ingres. In effect, CA is buying itself a community.

IBM didnt have to. Its open-sourcing of Cloudscape, a Java database it acquired in the Informix purchase, was greeted enthusiastically by the Apache Software Foundation and the open-source community. Many said that a small, tiny-footprinted, no-DBA-required, embeddable Java database would be a boon to the community.

IBM scored points by its solid understanding of the open-source community and its no-strings-attached donation to the ASF. Kudos goes to IBM for gifting the community with the largest chunk of code ever and for doing it right.

With its smart approach, IBM didnt need to actually buy a community. That can be evidenced by the small prizes in its version of the $1 million challenge, which, in its case, would be called the nice-little-gadget contest.

Next Page: Database security.

Database security

Database security

Thank heavens for a Slammer-free year. There were plenty of warnings of exploits or vulnerabilities, though, both on Oracle databases and IBM DB2. Plenty of people got fed up with Oracles silence on flaws, as well.

Oracle sort-of almost announced midyear that it would be releasing monthly patch rollups, a la Microsoft. Users had mixed reactions, some saying that they only had time for biyearly patching, others saying they wanted patches as soon as they were available. After just one monthly patch rollup dribbled out, users were left scratching their heads.

The confusion was allayed recently, however, by Oracle Chief Security Officer Mary Ann Davidson, who announced that, after plenty of back-and-forth with customers, it was decided that a quarterly patch rollup release would be the right schedule to adopt.

Users seem pretty OK with that, particularly given the assurance that critical updates would be sent out in the interim between quarterly updates.

The crystal ball

There was plenty more excitement in 2004, particularly surrounding Microsofts relentless business intelligence rollouts and IBMs announcements around Information Integrator. But my sources tell me that such news is just setting the stage for some very interesting battles that will take place in 2005. Stay tuned for my look ahead at what the new year will bring to database aficionados, where Ill delve into those in more detail.

Write to me at Associate Editor Lisa Vaas has written about enterprise applications since 1997.

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