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Oracle to clarify app server strategy

After muddling through two months with seemingly dueling messages, the database giant will attempt to clarify its application server strategy next week.

After muddling through the past several months with seemingly dueling messages, database giant Oracle will attempt to clarify its application server strategy next week when it announces updates to the business software.

At the Internet World industry trade show, Oracle will announce plans to update its Oracle Application Server by introducing support for standard industry programming models, as well as attempt to distinguish between its Application Server and 8i, sources said. The database giant also plans to introduce a "light" version of its application server, and announce an XML and e-commerce strategy.

The lighter version of Oracle Application Server is expected to debut this fall. "If all you need is to serve static HTTP pages and an object request broker for CORBA, and a Java Virtual Machine to run Java, then you can use this configuration. It's a smaller footprint, easier to install and easier to manage," one source said.

The lighter version is geared toward those who want to use standard programming models and don't need Oracle's proprietary cartridges, which take up additional memory, the source said.

Oracle is also building an XML-based message broker that will support Java Messaging Services and can run on top of 8i, Tibco, IBM's MQ Series, or other messaging software, sources said.

The message broker receives messages, translates it into XML, and dispatches them--a system that's perfect for workflow-based applications, such as stock trading, sources said.

The company is also updating its Designer Case Tool with Unified Modeling Language (UML) modeling, which could help translate applications into XML.

An Oracle spokeswoman refused to comment on next week's announcements.

Trying to position itself in the booming application server market, Oracle has managed to confuse customers with a pair of similar products--its two-year-old Oracle Application Server and its new Oracle 8i database, which has built-in application server features. Both serve as a connection between Web browsers and information in back-end databases, allowing businesses to create e-commerce and other Web sites.

As reported earlier, Oracle executives have admitted they muddled the marketing strategy for the Application Server and Oracle 8i. Customers have wondered what product they needed and if Oracle was abandoning its standalone application server since the company added similar features into the 8i database.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Oracle's marketing machine the past half year has touted 8i as the only technology needed to deploy applications on the Net.

The updated Oracle Application Server will support Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) 1.0 specification and replace its proprietary "cartridge" technology with support for standard Java "servlets," sources said.

Previously, Oracle supported an early version of EJB, but not the full specification. A Java servlet is a standard way to dynamically generate Web pages and allows the Web server to talk to the database. That way, Web sites can remember who Web surfers are when they re-enter the site.

The update--to be released this summer--will also support the C++ programming language, sources said. It previously supported C.

In the future, Oracle plans to better integrate its Application Server with Oracle 8i. While they perform the same functions now, the two products use different object request brokers, naming directories, management tools and security models, sources said.

"They're going to consolidate the two different application server capabilities with the same infrastructure," one source said.

While the two products work well together, it's a hassle for information systems managers to try to administer two systems with different internal parts, the source said. "It's a lot more work to administer. They have slightly different behaviors, so if you're familiar to do it one way, you can't do it the same way [for the second product]."

Future versions of the application server will also support JavaServer Pages, which allows developers to add dynamic content to Web pages.

Oracle's marketing goals
On the marketing side, in February Oracle executives reaffirmed their commitment to the company's Application Server and promised to market both the database and application server software on an equal basis.

Executives said Oracle is merely giving users two options: Smaller companies who expect a limited number of users for applications can stick with the database. Those who want to create e-commerce sites, support a large number of users, and want the ability to connect to other vendors' databases and mainframes will need to buy an application server.

Next week, Oracle will try to further explain those same points. "It's the same message, but it's a little clearer than before," one source said.

According to sources, Oracle is telling customers there are several reasons why they should buy the standalone application server:

• If users need to support for multiple languages. The database only supports PL/SQL and Java.

• If users need access to legacy applications and other vendors' databases. The application server sitting in the middle can easily make the connections.

• If performance declines and the database is running out of memory because the database functions and the application server functions are taxing the system. Using a standalone application server to alleviate the memory constraints is easier than dividing up the database information into multiple databases.

"You can separate the application business logic, so you don't have to worry about performance being affected," one source said. "Otherwise, Oracle is saying it's fine to use 8i for everything else."

With 8i, Oracle is trying to undermine Microsoft sales by freeing itself from relying on core Windows NT operating system functions, such as the NT file system. The upcoming Internet File System, now in beta and planned for a final release in late summer, will store and manage Web pages as well as Windows application files.