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Oracle, IBM vie in mini databases

Both companies will soon ship mobile databases that allow remote workers to link to their corporate networks via laptops and handheld PCs.

Oracle and IBM will soon ship new mobile databases that allow remote workers to link to corporate networks via laptops and handheld PCs.

The two software rivals are gunning for mobile database leader Sybase, looking to gain share in a market that analysts believe will continue expanding as increased numbers of people work remotely.

Sybase took an early lead as the only company offering mobile databases. But as regular database sales have slowed, Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft have embraced the mobile market as handheld devices become more popular.

"It's clearly going to be a huge unit market," said Curt Monash, president of consulting firm Monash Information Services.

Oracle today announced it will ship in June its mini database, called Oracle 8i Lite, with new features that allow laptop, handheld PC, and cell phone users to easily replicate and synchronize data with corporate databases, said Denise Lahey, Oracle's vice president of mobile and embedded products division.

In the past, the Internet and mobile markets have been hot, but they've been mutually exclusive, she said. "We're bringing mobility to the Internet."

Specifically, Oracle is going after three database markets with its new 8i Lite. The first target is laptop users who connect to headquarters to download the latest data, work and use applications offline, then dial in again to update and sync up with the corporate database.

Second, the company is also aiming for the embedded applications market. In the past, applications with 8i Lite embedded in them were limited to one user. But Oracle will soon release a version that supports two to ten users.

Third, Oracle is interesting in winning makers of cell phones, personal digital assistants like 3Com's PalmPilot and Windows CE devices, and other handheld devices. Later this year, the database giant will combine its 8i Lite with its Project Panama technology to give users Web access. Project Panama is software that translates information on Web sites and fits the data into the tiny screens of mobile devices.

The company currently supports 3Com's Palm and Microsoft's Windows operating systems and an operating system for cell phones called EPOC. Oracle plans to release a new Linux version of 8i Lite as well. The cost will be $295 per user.

Separately, as part of its DB2 Universal Database 6 announcement today, IBM introduced two new versions aimed at mobile and embedded use.

DB2 Satellite Edition is intended for mobile applications on laptops running Windows 95, 98, and Windows NT. It includes data replication tools to keep mobile systems in synch with centralized corporate databases.

DB2 Everywhere is aimed at handheld devices running Windows CE and the PalmOS. The database links to DB2 on corporate servers, Microsoft Exchange, and Lotus Notes via IBM's Mobile Connect communications software.

Both versions of DB2 are currently in beta testing and will ship later this year, said Janet Perna, general manager of data management at IBM's Data Management division.

It's unclear how much profit Oracle, IBM and others will derive from mobile databases, said Monash, the consultant.

It could quickly become a commodity market if everyone offers the same prices, features, and performance, Monash said. "Everyone is pushing database functionality under 100 kilobytes of memory. With it so small, it's unlikely performance will be a discriminating factor."

Nevertheless, the database makers can use the sale of its mini databases to propel the sale of their full-fledged databases and replication tools, he added.