Oracles New Game Plan for 9i Database

Trying to stir up interest in Oracle9i, Oracle Corp. is promoting the database as a platform for such things as e-mail, voice mail and file serving.

Trying to stir up interest in Oracle9i, Oracle Corp. is promoting the database as a platform for such things as e-mail, voice mail and file serving.

But that pitch fell short for some Oracle users at the companys OpenWorld conference in San Francisco last week; they said they werent yet finished implementing 8i. Because of that and although enhancements in 9i and its Real Application Clusters are improvements, adoption of the new technology for some customers is at least six to 12 months away.

"We just went to 8 recently. Its going to be a year or two" before upgrading to Oracle9i, said Jim Bunch, systems analyst for Intecs International Inc. The Fort Collins, Colo., subcontractor runs a database for the U.S. Department of Agricultures Forest Service.

Marlin Bader, sales manager at Precise Software Solutions Ltd., of Westwood, Mass., agreed.

"Theyre just getting their Oracle8 versions solid right now," Bader said at the show. "The bleeding-edge companies that we talk to say theyre looking at implementing [Oracle9i] but just not now."

Some users said that most shortcomings of 8i and its point releases—including limitations in accessing nondatabase information from inside Oracle, primitive XML features, and well-known importing and indexing bugs—are resolved in 9i. Still, the too-much, too-soon feeling about 9i and clustering was rampant at the conference. Nevertheless, Oracle officials spoke in technical sessions and speeches of Oracle9is value as a hosted application, its usefulness as an e-mail server and its not-yet-official ability to be a file server.

For his part, Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison downplayed the issue of the high cost of Oracle technology and urged users to consider total cost of ownership instead of just software costs. Ellison spoke of new features debuting early next year such as voice mail and unified messaging through a partnership with Intel Corp., improved cluster management features available now on Compaq Computer Corp. servers and on other servers in six months, and deeper XML features.

Ellison also spoke of the perception that Oracle ends up costing users disproportionately more than IBMs or Microsoft Corp.s database products and admitted its a problem.

"I think its more expensive for my needs," said Dave Baker, consulting manager for SI Enterprise Consulting Corp., of McLean, Va. "I dont agree with [Ellisons] justification for why its cheaper."

How the pricing problem, real or imagined, impacts Oracle may be seen next summer. IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., is set to launch Version 8.2 of the DB2 product, and Microsoft will begin marketing the .Net upgrade to SQL Server. Before the Oracle9i launch this summer, Oracle held a 33.8 percent slice of the $8.8 billion worldwide database pie, according to Gartner Dataquest, in San Jose, Calif. But IBM was close on its heels in the Unix market, and Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., held a small lead and was growing at a stronger rate than Redwood Shores, Calif., Oracle in the faster-growing Windows market, Gartner officials said at the time.