Oracle's ready for the Internet, but are its customers?
Last fall, Larry Ellison, chief
executive of database giant Oracle, announced with his trademark
bluster that his company was putting all of its development and sales
efforts behind Oracle 8i, which he described as the only technology
businesses need to deploy applications that are accessible through the Net.
But four months after the
shipment of the Internet-centric 8i, Oracle customers who have received 8i as part of regular software upgrades don't seem to care about the
new Internet features--at least not yet.
Not only does 8i serve as a full-function database server, it also includes
a built-in Java Virtual Machine to run Java application code; a built-in
application server that runs the rules and regulations of software; WebDB,
a browser-based software development tool; Intermedia, a technology
that allows users to search for data in all formats, such as Word documents,
audio, and video; and a new file system, called the Internet File System
(IFS), which stores and manages Web pages, as well as word processing files,
spreadsheets, and multimedia within the database.
However, most Oracle customers contacted said they're deploying the new
not because of any Net technology but for some rather old-fashioned
reasons: speed and increased performance. While they like the new Web
features in concept and are testing them, they say the technology is still
too new and unproven to use in production systems.
Even the dot com companies so prominently featured in Oracle advertisements
aren't willing to take the plunge just yet.
"Our focus is not on the Internet features. Those are very new. The reason
we're using 8i out of the box is we get a lot of performance enhancements.
It's definitely speed," said Sanjeev Mohan, a data architect at consulting
firm Scient, which is using Oracle 8i
for its project with online real estate brokerage firm HomeBid.com.
Delana Sandy, manager of production data services at Lycos, said the portal will switch from
Oracle 8 to 8i in the next two to three months because of its new, faster
data warehousing features, not because of Internet-centric technology.
Sandy said Lycos wants 8i for its much-improved speed. Lycos's search
engine currently uses flat files or straight binary files to maintain links to 60
million to 70 million Web sites, but will move to Oracle 8i to house the
data because it's now fast enough.
"There's no way for us to go live with the search features on Oracle 8.
Oracle 8i is so much faster," she said.
About those new Internet features? Sandy said she'll
evaluate new XML
support. IFS "sounds good, but I'm not sure how we'll use it here.
We're still kind of in wait and see mode...with that," she said.
It's not that the database server isn't popular. In fact, a recent survey of
1,500 Oracle customers conducted by the company's user group found very
high interest in the database. More than 60 percent of companies surveyed
said they planned to make the switch to 8i. And those few early adopters who
have developed applications using 8i's new Internet features, rave about
the new Internet technology.
Jeff Grant, IT manager for record company Nettwerk Productions, is one of those
While his company's Web site still runs on Oracle 8, Grant so far has built
two applications that run on 8i: accounting software that collects royalty
reports for its recording artists and an application that sends out email
to 40,000 to 60,000 fan club members directly from the database.
His next project is to build an intranet, so employees can write and send
email on the Web, sort of an internal Hotmail, he said.
Grant has used the built-in Java Virtual Machine in 8i and hasn't had any
problems. The move
back to centralized computing for business applications make sense, he said.
"Ellison really keyed in on it a year ago. Developing apps like this makes
all the sense in the world," Grant said. "If you have to make a
modification, there's no more screwing around and going to 5,000 people [to
upgrade the software]. You can make the changes in one spot."
Early adopters notwithstanding, one reason for the lukewarm reception toward
8i's Internet-centric technology could be that some key pieces--long
promised by Oracle--are
still not available in a finished form. Additional support for Extensible
(XML) in the Internet File System are still to come. Oracle had originally
promised the IFS technology this summer, but it's not slated to debut until
year's end, said the company.
Oracle executives say it's natural for current customers to slowly adopt
the new features because 8i is only four months old. It takes time to learn
the new technology, said Jeremy Burton, Oracle's vice president of server
"The features they like are scalability and reliability. But over time,
they'll figure out what this Internet model can do for them," he said. "In
six to nine months, we'll see more applications developed using the newer
Analyst Merv Adrian of Giga Information
Group, said it makes sense that most users are using 8i for its performance
and speed first, rather than the Internet features.
Oracle was a market leader in building Web features into its database, a
smart move because it gives customers an impetus to move the new version,
"The real impact of databases consists of the ability to deliver reliable
applications that perform well. But you can't sell a database by saying it
works better. It has to have new improved XML support with JavaBeans,"
Adrian said. "8i represented a dramatic shift in focus, to Internet-driven
changes. People are buying it because it meets today's and tomorrow's needs."
Tomorrow's needs may be exactly what most Oracle customers have in mind when
they evaluate 8i. Cloene Goldsborough-Davis, vice president of information
technology at Sprint PCS, said her
company--which stores roughly 90 percent of its data in Oracle databases--is
not inclined to make a quick judgement of 8i's new features. "We'll look at
it and try to plan where it might fit. But we don't see a need right now.
It's not at the top of our list."
Mohan, of Scient, said his company chose 8i for the HomeBid.com
project because it's the latest product and HomeBid can exploit all the new
Internet features in the future.
But Scient won't use any of the Internet features until it's sure the
technology works, Mohan said. Scient is still testing the current crop of
Internet features available on 8i, including the built-in Java Virtual
In the meantime, Mohan said the company will focus on using the performance
features of 8i, such as the Parallel Server, which offers load balancing,
which gives the ability to distribute transactions evenly so it won't
overload the system.
As for the Internet features of 8i, Mohan said the database server is "only
four months old and we haven't tested it enough. At this stage, it's version
1. You should never use version 1 of any software," he said. "We don't want
our clients to be the first ones tested."