Never in its history has Oracle had to appeal to such a diverse customer population and this situation has resulted in some remarkable sights and sounds at the companys OpenWorld convention this week.
After buying no less than 10 companies this year, Oracle Corp. had to set a strikingly conciliatory tone aimed at convincing customers that it was going to be all things to all its constituents.
Since its founding, Oracle had the freedom to pursue an independent technological course that best suited its database and applications.
That means that the idea of building significant products linked with IBM DB2 or IBM middleware—unless it helped siphon DB2 data into Oracle databases—was an anathema.
But when you buy 10 separate companies you are also buying their technology and business partnerships. This makes for strange bedfellows as Oracle finds it must support WebSphere and DB2 for the Siebel, Retek and I-flex product lines.
Larry Ellison was the only executive in the IT industry who could seem taciturn even when he was giving a keynote speech.
He would frequently come on the stage without notes and sometimes without even the typical PowerPoint presentation and make a few welcoming remarks or a brief statement outlining the big news of the day before engaging the audience in a question and answer session.
But at OpenWorld Ellison made a concession to the many new customer constituencies in the hall this year by actually reading from prepared notes, which appeared to be one folded page with a double-spaced list of all the points he wanted to make about his companys product strategy.
Ellison certainly owed it to all his new customers to make some clear statements about what kind of service and support it could expect from his company.
His most significant statement was that Oracle will certify the new versions of the PeopleSoft, Siebel and other applications for DB2 and WebSphere.
This may seem like a major concession for Oracle. But it really is just basic good business sense. If Oracle values the installed base of these newly acquired products, it isnt going to rapidly devalue them by setting an early date for the end of DB2 support.
Its a heterogeneous world and Oracle has to work with a lot of companies and customers that work with both DB2 and WebSphere.
Will Oracle Support DB2
It will be much more significant to see whether Oracle eventually decides to extend the IBM support to the Fusion products due by 2008. The smart money says that Oracle wont include DB2 support in Fusion and not just because of parochial competitive issues.
There are technology issues that are more difficult to overcome, noted James Holincheck, a research vice president with Gartner Inc.
Gartners view is that Project Fusion will not support DB2 if Oracle proceeds as originally planned with its eBusiness Suite as the technological foundation for the application suite, Holincheck said.
This is because much of the application logic for the eBusiness Suite in embedded in the Oracle database, he said. This means it wont be an easy task to rewrite the applications so they do not rely on the embedded application logic and thereby work more easily with either Oracle or DB2.
Its possible that the acquisition of Siebel will change the situation, Holincheck said. Oracle has changed its position somewhat by “by saying that Siebel is really going to be the starting point for where theyre going in CRM applications,” he said.
Its possible that if eBusiness Suite—with reliance on application logic embedded in the Oracle database—isnt the foundation for Project Fusion, then it might be easier to give customers the choice of running the applications on either Oracle or DB2, said Holincheck.
Its probably unlikely that this will happen, but there is still a chance, he said.
Ellison himself would only say that Oracle hasnt decided whether Fusion will support third-party databases. It will talk further with customers to find out whether DB2 support is an essential feature for them before making a decision, he said.
That Oracle is even willing to consider the question is a significant change from the previous steadfast Oracle everywhere policy.
This newfound flexibility became essential when Oracle decided that it was going to rapidly grow through one of the most aggressive acquisition campaigns in software industry history.
At this point, Oracle must exceed in audacity and cost the rapid-fire acquisition pace that Computer Associates set in the 1980s and 1990s.
But it remains to be seen whether Oracles conciliatory stance means PeopleSoft, J.D Edwards and Siebel customers will be able to use their applications for as long as they want without feeling pressure from Oracles sales force to upgrade to the Fusion applications.
John Pallatto is a veteran journalist in the field of enterprise software and Internet technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.