9i Comes With Competition

Despite improved clustering and new features, Oracle faces increased pressure from competitors

When Oracle Corp. rolls out its Oracle9i database this week, it will boast some 450 new or improved features over its predecessor, 8i. Though early testers are impressed with the software, it wont necessarily be smooth sailing for the database king, as competition heats up and users ponder whether to upgrade.

Officials of the Redwood Shores, Calif., company said the new version of Oracles database contains vast improvements over 8i in the areas of application clustering, business intelligence, location-based services and scalability. The complete list totals about 450 new or improved features, they said.

"Were moving to an era that says, How does technology change for business?" said Ken Jacobs, vice president of strategy at Oracle.

Businesses shouldnt have to change for technology, Jacobs added. "A lot of the things in 9i are supporting that trend—globalization, localization, consolidation."

9i will enter what has become an $8.8 billion database market, in which Oracle has a leading share of 33.8 percent, according to market researcher Gartner Dataquest, of Stamford, Conn.

Of the many new features, one early tester was impressed with 9is clustering capabilities.

According to Karl Buttner, president and CEO of 170 Systems Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., the clustering in 9i seemed faster and more reliable than in 8i.

170 Systems, a maker of business-to-business software, has used Oracle databases throughout its 10-year existence. Buttner has been testing 9i since late last summer.

"The most important question [before upgrading to 9i] is: Is it going to continue to work?" he said.

While Oracle9i beta testers were generally pleased with the new product, others pointed out particular issues that could be improved upon.

For example, some said the products Extensible Markup Language features are limited, its improved management consoles could stand further refinement and, as with prior versions, the software could be less expensive.

Nevertheless, as users debate the products merits, the database competition is heating up.

Last Friday, IBM announced that DB2 Version 7.2 is now generally available, and June 25, Sybase Inc. will announce Adaptive Server Enterprise 12.5, officials said.

And while Oracles overall 2000 database market lead grew 2.4 percent over its 1999 share and its Unix lead of 66.2 percent is more than four-and-a-half times the market share of second-place IBM, the Windows NT category has grown to 80 percent of the overall database market. Oracle trails Microsoft Corp. in that category, 37.3 percent to 38 percent.