Whats Next for Oracle?

Built on grid computing and due to debut at Oracle World, Oracle 10G marks the company's biggest technology release in a decade. Can Oracle tackle the grid and PeopleSoft, too?

Heading into its major trade show of the year, Oracle Corp. is at a crossroads. It is launching what its executives say is its biggest new technology release in a decade, and it is doing so in the middle of an ongoing tussle to take over business applications competitor PeopleSoft Inc.

At next weeks Oracle World show in San Francisco, Oracle CEO and Chairman Larry Ellison will have plenty to talk about. At the top of the agenda will be grid computing.

Oracle plans to unveil at the show the 10G versions of its database, application server and Enterprise Manager management software. All three incorporate new technology to support grid computing, which in Oracles definition broadly means the ability of many small servers to act as one where processing resources can be reallocated among various applications as needed.

"This is the single biggest release or announcement weve made in at least a decade and is really the first time weve synchronized the announcement of all the technology products," said Bob Shimp, vice president of platform marketing at the Redwood Shores, Calif., vendor.

The challenge for Oracle will be selling its grid approach to customers who commonly associate grid computing with the search for extraterrestrials or high-end university research, not enterprise computing, analysts say.

"Surprisingly few companies want to do grid computing right now," said Mike Gilpin, a research director at Forrester Research Inc. "Theres a lot more hype around the subject area than actual company buying of the technology."

At Oracle World, Oracle will focus on explaining its grid computing approach to customers. It will be presenting customer examples, expert testimonials and demonstrations of 10G, Shimp said. The company also is trying to differentiate its concept of grid from that of its competitors, such as IBM and Microsoft Corp.

Its grid approach is about more than greater flexibility in computing. It is a culmination of Oracles push toward lower-cost computing—away from the large SMP servers on which its database has traditionally run and onto Intel-based servers and, ultimately, Linux.

"The tables having really turned where we are emphasizing the low-cost components," said Charles Phillips, an Oracle executive vice president. "(Microsoft) used to say to buy low-cost components and PCs and tie them together, and now they dont. And now were saying it because we have this breakthrough in grid."

Oracle also is trying to convince customers to consolidate more and more of their applications and infrastructure onto one Oracle platform with 10G. It echoes a consistent mantra from Ellison and other executives: that Oracle can simplify computing if customers standardize on its technology and applications, rather than attempt to integrate a hodgepodge of vendor technologies and applications.

While each of the 10G products has grid capabilities individually, they were designed to work together as a complete infrastructure, Shimp said. "Were not trying to create heterogeneous grids," he said.

"What we see is Oracle focusing on moving from being just a database company to expanding (its) role as an overall stack," said Jeff Comport, vice president and analyst at Gartner Group.

Though Oracle may be pushing ahead of its customer base, the technology direction is a useful one for customers, Gilpin said—more for some of the specific capabilities the 10G releases will provide than the grid approach overall. For example, the latest release will allow the clustering capabilities of the database and application server to be more aware of each other so that a failover is better integrated between the two, he said.

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