Oracle hopes for big splash with Tsunami

Database giant expected to launch content management competitor to products from IBM and Microsoft this year.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
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David Becker
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Oracle is expected to jump into the emerging market for content management software later this year.

The database giant will announce a new product code-named Tsunami at its Oracle OpenWorld conference in December, Alan Pelz-Sharpe, an analyst at research company Ovum, told CNET News.com. Pelz-Sharpe, who based his prediction on interviews with Oracle customers and employees, said the product will integrate enterprise content management (ECM) functions into its main suite of business products.

"Oracle's been looking at the unstructured data market for a long time," he said. "They have actually been spending a lot of time, very quietly, developing ECM capabilities."

ECM software typically consists of a server application for cataloging and managing access to documents, images, e-mail messages and other non-numerical content stored on a central server. Such content is referred to as "unstructured data," as opposed to the structured numerical data handled by Oracle's main database products.

An Oracle executive on Thursday confirmed the company's general plans but offered few details.

"We have leveraged our expertise in the management of unstructured data to deliver a significant upgrade to our content management capabilities. This offering will be made available in future releases of Oracle Collaboration Suite," Greg Doherty, an Oracle vice president, said in a statement issued to CNET News.com.

An Oracle representative said the company will provide additional specific details about its plans before the end of the year.

The company has been widely expected to enter the ECM market during the past couple of years, as a way to extend its database dominance and counter moves by competitors. Rival IBM, for example, has increasingly integrated content management functions with its database and collaboration products.

Oracle executives acknowledged during the company's antirust trial over its attempted takeover of PeopleSoft that Oracle had considered acquiring content management specialist Documentum before EMC gobbled it up, confirming widespread speculation that Oracle was contemplating such a move.

But in-house development has made more sense than another acquisition in the midst of the PeopleSoft fracas, said Jim Murphy, an analyst for AMR Research.

"They need to appear very serious about the PeopleSoft bid; they don't want to do anything to distract any attention from that," Murphy said. "They actually hired some new talent--experienced people in the content management area--with (the plan of) creating a product."

Oracle has already helped customers add some basic document management functions to its 10g application server with the Oracle Content Management SDK (software development kit). The kit, formerly named Internet File System, is a collection of tools that handles tasks such as managing multiple versions of a document.

Tsunami "definitely fits in with my sense of where Oracle is headed," said Steve Weissman, president of research firm Kinetic Information. "It's not like they haven't already dabbled in all these spaces. It's about focusing on what you're good at and how can you ride that into the future."

Existing ECM products would likely be too cumbersome for most of Oracle's customers, Pelz-Sharpe added. "I think it's actually a big advantage that they're late to market," he said. "They've been able to see the failures of the niche players. Delivering it this way, as part of an upgrade to your infrastructure or existing business apps, they can price it at a very competitive level. They're going to be difficult to beat."

While Oracle has to be worried about IBM, Pelz-Sharpe said, Tsunami may be better seen as a reaction to Microsoft's SharePoint. SharePoint is document-sharing and collaboration technology that Microsoft has woven into recent server versions of the Windows operating system.

While far from a full-fledged content management product, SharePoint could easily be expanded to handle basic document sharing and management needs for most businesses.

CNET News.com's Alorie Gilbert contributed to this report.