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Oracle looks to capitalize on database lead

The software giant is hoping to capitalize on the e-commerce buzz to put some distance between itself and rivals such as IBM and Microsoft.

Oracle is hoping to capture new e-commerce business and put some distance between itself and rivals such as IBM and Microsoft with new software being announced this week.

The software giant today announced plans for its next-generation Oracle 9i database and e-commerce software at its annual Oracle OpenWorld conference this week in San Francisco. Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison will headline the event with a keynote speech tomorrow.

The new version of Oracle's

Meta Group says Oracle's new 9i database version release adds functionality but doesn't appear to provide the technological leap that would put it ahead of lower-priced competition.

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database--software that collects and stores corporate and Web information--will be the company's first major update to its flagship product since it released Oracle 8i some 18 months ago. The company also is shipping a new version of its application server, or software that runs e-commerce transactions, according to company executives.

Oracle's theme for the conference is that its forthcoming next-generation products are faster, better performing, more secure and easier to manage than ever before, said International Data Corp. analyst Carl Olofson.

Oracle still holds a commanding lead in the database market. Of the $11.1 billion spent on databases in 1999, Oracle captured 42.4 percent of sales, followed by IBM with 20.4 percent and Microsoft with 7.8 percent, according to IDC. Informix ranks fourth with 5.9 percent, followed by Sybase with 3.9 percent.

The company also competes against IBM, Microsoft, the Sun-Netscape Alliance, BEA Systems and others in the exploding market for e-commerce software and tools.

An Oracle spokeswoman said the new Oracle 9i database, due in the first half of next year, will feature new "clustering" technology that will make the company's databases perform faster and more reliably than before. Clustering allows businesses to harness multiple servers to run a very large database, allowing servers to share work or take over from each other if one fails.

The company's previous clustering technology, called Oracle Parallel Server, allowed businesses to add as many servers, or high-end computers, as they needed. But for the clustering to work, businesses would have to change software and segment the data, a time-consuming effort for database administrators, said Jeremy Burton, Oracle's senior vice president of products and services marketing.

The new technology, called Oracle 9i Real Application Clusters, saves time because businesses can add additional servers in a cluster without having to change software and segment the information, he said.

The new database is aimed at corporations, business-to-business trading exchanges and application service providers, which rent software over the Web. Other new features include support for wireless devices and the ability to personalize Web sites to each customer's preferences.

Oracle also announced plans for Oracle 8i Parallel Server for Linux, the company's first clustering database for the emerging operating system. Oracle will ship the Parallel Server for Linux by year's end and will support Real Application Clusters by the first half of 2001.

On the application server software front, Oracle today announced Oracle 9i application server with new Web caching technology that will speed the delivery of Web site information to Web surfers. An application server is software that runs Web transactions by managing traffic between Web browsers and back-end databases.

Instead of having one huge farm of application servers to run a Web site, the new caching technology will allow companies to cut down to one Oracle application server, said Bob Shimp, Oracle's senior director of Internet platform marketing.

Caching software replicates Web site information stored in databases and helps deliver information to Web surfers faster because sites do not have to retrieve database information each time a request comes in. Previous Oracle caching technology handled "static" Web pages, or Web content that does not change. The new technology can handle Web content that changes repeatedly, such as stock quotes and bids on online auction items, Shimp said.

Oracle is also building previously released wireless technology into a new version of its application server. The Oracle 9i application server wireless edition, due in December, will allow businesses, service providers and Web sites to transmit their Web content and services, originally intended for display on PCs, to mobile devices, such as cell phones and handheld computers.

The wireless technology, called Portal-to-Go, was previously a standalone product.

The software maker's wireless arm, called OracleMobile, today also announced a new feature on its Web site that allows companies to adapt their existing software to wireless devices. Businesses can transfer software to OracleMobile's Web site, which will automatically transform the software so it can be accessed through handheld devices, Oracle executives said. The online service, called Online Studio--a test version is available today and a final edition is expected next month--will also host the software for businesses.

Oracle is also announcing a new version of its software management product, called Oracle Enterprise Manager, that can monitor the health of the application server and database from a single computer.

On Wednesday, Oracle will join high-end storage equipment maker EMC and networking powerhouse Cisco Systems in a plan to make it easier for companies to build complex networks. In a keynote address, EMC chief executive Mike Ruettgers is expected to announce the three companies will cooperate to make sure their equipment works well together.

The Wednesday announcement will build on last year's partnership between Oracle and EMC to jointly develop, test and promote their products.

Although center stage at OpenWorld will likely be devoted to the introduction of 9i, some analysts say the company will also spend time promoting its momentum in other lucrative software sectors such as customer relationship management (CRM), Net marketplaces, and application hosting, or the renting of software over the Web.

Oracle, like close competitors SAP and PeopleSoft, has been moving aggressively in the CRM market--a field widely viewed as the next big land grab and so far dominated by rival Siebel Systems.

Shortly after the release of CRM 11i, which incorporates the company's CRM suite with a Web version of Oracle's flagship enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, Oracle said applications software soared 61 percent to $447 million, fueled by 161 percent growth in CRM sales.

ERP software automates a company's back office--financials, human resources and manufacturing operations--while CRM software automates the front office, or sales, marketing and customer service activities.

Oracle "is going to be touting 11i at OpenWorld as the next e-business Internet platform," said David Boulanger, an analyst at Boston-based AMR Research. He added that much attention will fall on the Web-based CRM suite.

While Oracle sales representatives have proved their ability to sell the software, the question Oracle still needs to answer is whether businesses have successfully implemented it, he added.'s Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.