If you ask Larry Ellison how to avoid getting locked-into the "evil" that is the Microsoft solution it is no surprise that the answer is Oracle - but is Ellison's answer any better? Accepting a database that doubles up as an application server, a file server and a development environment could just mean swapping the devil you know for the devil you don't.
It's easy for Oracle, chairman and CEO Larry Ellison, playing to a sympathetic crowd in New York, to paint a picture of his chief adversary Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and CEO, as the evil baron that wants to control everything that he surveys.
Quoting Gates, Ellison mused, "He says, 'It's getting harder and harder to find PC data, maybe we should build a database into the (Windows) file system.' Of course what he means is, 'If we build a database into the file system we can put Oracle out of business and the justice department won't sue us because we're just extending the operating system'."
Ellison moved on to say that Gates has got the concept right but the emphasis wrong. "The database is a much better place to keep the file system. It's faster, it's more searchable, its easier to share information, it's more secure, and you can have multiple versions of documents in it.
We have delivered in Oracle 8i the world's best Windows file system," he added.
The new version of the Oracle database, 8i, launched last week, offers all the trappings of an object-relational database, with the ability to store and search data of any description whether a Word file, an Email, an HTML page, or a JPEG image. Files can be dragged and dropped from the desktop straight into the "O-drive" - O standing for Oracle.
While the company would never admit to creating an object-relational database, which was Informix's soapbox, the concept provided a fine answer to the problem of Microsoft and the growing acceptance of SQL server, explains Philip Carnelly, principal analyst at Ovum. "Microsoft has come in and pulled the rug out from under them," he added.
With Oracle 8i, the company has bundled iFS (Internet File System), a free version of the Windows file system, a free version of an Email file system called IMAP4 (Internet Mail Access Protocol 4), together with a Java Virtual Machine. In this way, Oracle is promising "complete insulation from the operating system. You can write an application for 8i in Java and it will run on Sun, it will run on MVS it will run on NT", claimed Ellison.
By taking the functionality away from the operating system, Oracle relegates it to little more than a layer of software that sits between the database and the hardware, commented Rob Hailstone, chief analyst at Bloor Research.
"The next step could be running the database native on the hardware," he suggested.
With no other database vendor planning to usurp the role of the operating system, successful marketing would leave Oracle in a very powerful position.
"Replacing the operating system with a database would lock people into Oracle," Hailstone claimed.
Ovum's Philip Carnelly agrees that 8i could mean a lock-in but he feels that many companies are in that position already. "A lot of companies already have a global commitment to Oracle and are so locked-in that sticking your mail into the database is not much of a problem," he said.
When making the 8i announcement, Ellison launched into a tirade against distributed client-server computing and the "crazy notion" nurtured by companies, such as Burger King, which intends to implement NT server with an SQL database in every branch. "It will cost between 10 and a 100 times more than simply providing those hamburger stands with access to the Internet and a single shared server," he claimed, adding that the same mistake had been made with ERP solutions implemented by companies on a regional level. "We build data-warehouses because we can't get information out of our operational systems. This is because they are irrationally fragmented and distributed," he said.
But the Internet Computing argument doesn't stop with large business, according to Ellison; client-server was also the wrong solution for small business. "(The argument that) doctors and lawyers are going to run their own datacentres, that they are going to put Windows NT servers and databases into small businesses, that's crazy," he said.
Ellison invited ISPs, using Oracle 8i, to invent doctors.com to offer accounting, scheduling and billing. For those ISPs without the capacity to run such a service, Oracle Business Online, a Web-farm hosting service would be available by the end of the year.
Bloor Research sides with the centralised managed datacentre argument but wonders whether it would work in the real world of acquisitions, mergers and regional autonomy. "We're talking absolutes here - no one will simply drop what they are doing now in favour of a central solution," said Hailstone.
THE ORACLE 8I COMPONENTS
- An Internet file system, iFS, and a multimedia management tool, interMedia that allows you to drag and drop and conduct database search or queries upon any file, whether its origins are in word, excel, Email, JPEG or multimedia.
- A Java Virtual Machine, developed by Oracle, that will support "tens of thousands of users".
- An Internet development environment, with WebDB tools for the novice and, for the advanced Java programmer, JDeveloper 2.0 to enable Web applications to be created, stored, and managed within the database environment.
Oracle hopes to release all products by the end of the 1998.
ORACLE'S COHERENT STORY FOR PARTNERSHIP
Developers in the ISPs and systems integrator communities will be offered free database licences, development and marketing funds. For ISPs that don't have the Web-farm capacity to host services for small businesses, like doctors.com or lawyers.com, Oracle will host the sites on Oracle Business Online, due for release at the end of the 1998.
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