Oracle Suite Aimed at Exchange Users

Collaboration Suite, which Oracle Corp. introduced last week, will provide another option for enterprises that want to use a relational data store for their groupware from Microsoft Corp. and IBM's Lotus Software division.

Collaboration Suite, which Oracle Corp. introduced last week, will provide another option for enterprises that want to use a relational data store for their groupware from Microsoft Corp. and IBMs Lotus Software division.

It is the first in a trend toward using a relational DBMS as the data store for groupware clients. With Microsoft and IBM on similar paths, such products promise to provide easier backup and recovery for collaboration applications and larger message stores.

Oracle Collaboration Suite, unveiled at the companys headquarters here and due next month, includes applications for e-mail, calendaring, file system support, voice mail and searching. Oracles vision for the suite is to let managers use its Oracle9i database and application server to manage the data stores for messaging clients such as Microsofts Outlook and IBMs Lotus Notes. Oracle late last month acquired calendaring vendor Steltor Inc., of Montreal, which offers a connector into Outlook for calendaring.

Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., plans to incorporate technology from its next major SQL Server release, code-named Yukon, into a future Exchange release, code-named Kodiak. Officials wouldnt specify a date for Kodiaks release, except to say it will follow Yukon, which is slated for next year. Lotus offers a separate development track, which would support a relational data store based on the IBM DB2 database by next year or 2004; it currently stores unstructured data in its Notes Storage Facility data store, said Lotus officials in Cambridge, Mass.

Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison said Oracles primary objective is to challenge Microsofts Exchange Server with an Oracle database that would be more reliable, scalable and cost less. Oracle is betting that Exchange customers will consider switching as they undergo migrations to Exchange 2000 and Active Directory from earlier Exchange versions.

"You keep using Outlook, and this is the beauty of this system," Ellison said. "You unplug the Microsoft server, but you keep the Microsoft client." But Oracle is facing a tough sell with Exchange users such as Ken Glass, an independent IT consultant in Manassas, Va. Glass oversees an Exchange 5.5 server at a client site and has worked with SQL Server and Oracle as a consultant.

"I dont see a whole lot of people going to Oracle for messaging," Glass said. "And theres really nothing I see there [in Oracle Collaboration Suite] you cant get with Exchange today."

Exchange users such as Ben Hall, a senior system administrator at Respond2 Inc., an advertising agency in Portland, Ore., have gone through difficult Exchange implementations. Halls took three months and two contractors, but he still has his doubts about Oracles offering.

"I personally would switch in a heartbeat," except that the Oracle software is pricey, said Hall. In addition, he doesnt think Collaboration Suite would support Outlook calendar collaboration as well as Exchange does.

Collaboration Suite can manage and store voice mail while connecting to PBX systems. The software uses Ultra Search technology, which Oracle unveiled a year ago for its database and application server. Ultra Search lets users search diverse sources such as e-mail, Web sites, unstructured data files and structured data in the relational database.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft plans new features in its Windows .Net Server, due later this year, to help ease migrations to Exchange 2000, including a tool to merge directories and trouble-shooting tools for Active Directory, officials said.

Microsoft is also trying to tackle scalability issues with a faster way to back up Exchange data, called Volume Shadow Copy, that should be out with an Exchange version in the middle of next year.

Those most likely to consider Collaboration Suite would be Oracles current customers who might want to take advantage of features, such as backup and recovery, built into the database. Current users say they find the offering interesting because they could leverage in-house Oracle database expertise, though few are ready to replace existing systems soon.

"Were not planning on re-engineering the whole [messaging system] right now," said Howard Muffler, director of enterprise services at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, in Daytona Beach, Fla. "Oracle Collaboration Suite is an interesting idea, but its not something were likely to embrace in the short term."