There was a curious sense of the familiar at Oracle's user conference in Paris this week but, on closer inspection, Oracle was sending some very clear signals.
With chief executive Larry Ellison on sick leave, delegates were treated to a video rerun of his San Francisco speech. And Oracle remained tight-lipped about the details over the 10g release and pricing.
But having heard the fanfare that surrounded its 10g announcements in September, Oracle's European delegates were far more interested in enhancements made to the database than the concept of grid computing.
"People have been griddled to death. Our members have been more interested in the enhanced XML features, the handling of repetitive data in 10g," explained Ronan Miles, chairman of the Oracle UK User Group.
One of Oracle's elite European customers, atomic particle research organisation Cern, has welcomed the enhancements.
"A lot of what we'd asked for is included in 10g," said Jamie Shiers, database group leader at Cern. "We're in the process of testing for an upgrade, and expect to upgrade some time over the next year or so."
Miles suggested that, with many Oracle customers still using version seven and eight databases, the launch of 10g will provide the impetus to upgrade.
"But they'll move to 9i, now that they've got a terminal release," he said.
Oracle recognised that the leap to grids would be a big one for a number of its customers.
Chuck Rozwat, executive vice president of server technology at the vendor, said that many would not be ready for an all out migration to the grid.
Existing investment in large, powerful, multi-processor servers meant that firms would continue to run applications on them in the near future, he explained.
But Rozwat predicted that businesses would start out with small clusters of Intel servers running Linux for some applications, and over time bring more of these cheap boxes online, while retiring the big iron.
"With 10g, you're going to see almost a 30 per cent improvement in performance compared to 9i," he stated.
"When you consider the savings you can generate from optimising your server utilisation, you can see why we believe it's a compelling model."
Oracle's 10g model of grid computing has four main features. A bank of storage servers, linked up to an array of database servers, all connected to Oracle application servers and overseen by the Grid Control software.
The company has extended its Real Application Clustering software to be able to support hundreds of nodes.
This allows Grid Control to treat the system as a single computer, and provision capacity for whichever applications need priority at any given time.
As well has helping large businesses get to grips with its vision of the grid, Oracle was also keen to talk to the European delegates about its mid-market database, Oracle Standard Edition One.
"There's no rule for how you define mid-market customers," said Sergio Giacoletto, executive vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Oracle.
"But we see a lot of businesses in Europe that really look at the entry price, and we've changed our pricing strategy to meet that."
Oracle hopes to lure small and medium-sized customers with a single-processor version of Oracle Standard Edition One for $5,995 per processor or $195 per user with a minimum of five users.
With competitors like Microsoft pushing heavily on price, as well as open source databases such as PostGreSQL and mySQL maturing, Oracle has made sensible concessions to meet the price-sensitive market, according to Miles.
Even on the thorny issue of the PeopleSoft bid, there has been little movement. With the European and US regulators still pondering whether to allow the bid to go ahead, Oracle is stuck in limbo.
It sees little point in declaring its hand until it gets the green light. But the man leading the PeopleSoft bid believes that time is on Oracle's side.
"When you look at PeopleSoft's projected results, we're somewhat sceptical about their forecasts," said Chuck Phillips, executive vice president at Oracle.
"If we do receive [regulatory] approval, we're confident we can get the job done."
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