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Oracle targets Microsoft with database update

With Oracle 10g, expected to be released by the end of the year, Oracle is focusing on lowering the cost of database maintenance to combat Microsoft.

Oracle's upcoming 10g database is intended to stave off competition from Microsoft in the midsize-business market, Oracle executives said Thursday.

During a briefing with financial analysts, Oracle provided more details on the technical features and business goals of the Oracle 10g database, an update to the company's flagship database product, and the 10g Application Server, both due by year's end. On top of targeting smaller organizations with its database, the company has designed Oracle 10g to be able to handle millions of terabytes of data, or exabytes, for extremely large data warehousing applications.

Oracle 10g is the most significant upgrade to the company's main database since 1997, executives said. The database is intended to let companies run a single application across several database servers. This "grid" configuration will save businesses money because they can combine the horsepower of several low-cost machines rather than buy more expensive server hardware.

The grid capabilities, which are an extension to Oracle's database clustering in its 9i database, will let companies more effectively use their hardware through better load balancing, according to the company. With the database, Oracle will include management software that will let system administrators allocate more servers to address a peak in computing demand, such as the need to run quarterly financials.

Oracle Chief Financial Officer Jeff Henley said the company is looking to expand its database business to midsize companies and move beyond its stronghold in high-end sophisticated applications.

As previously reported, Oracle has set its sights on lowering the cost of maintaining Oracle databases, to make the software more attractive to smaller companies. Such a strategy has typically been Microsoft's strength, Henley said. Last year, revenue from Microsoft's SQL Server database grew faster than that from both Oracle's product and IBM's DB2 database, according to Gartner Dataquest.

"The real key thing we focused on is the cost of ownership," said Andrew Mendelsohn, senior vice president of Oracle's server technologies division. "That's the key issue we have to address, basically, if we want to keep Microsoft out of our accounts."

Oracle 10g will come with a management product called Enterprise Manager Grid Control, which will automate a number of tasks and eliminate the need for some third-party storage products, Mendelsohn said.

The management software will give administrators a single console for managing potentially hundreds of databases. Oracle will include tools for sending out patches and checking that databases are configured properly, Mendelsohn said. It will include a tool called Automatic Storage Management, which can quicken database setup and improve performance by automatically laying out, or "striping," data directly on storage disk drives, rather than using third-party tools for managing the file system, he said.

To ease the maintenance of individual databases, Oracle 10g will introduce a "workload repository," which will track how the database is being used, diagnose problems and recommend fixes to database administrators. In the future, Oracle will look to completely automate performance-tuning tasks, Mendelsohn said.

These management-oriented features will appeal to both large and smaller customers, but are a significant part of Oracle's "aggressive" midmarket push, executives said. The company last month introduced a single-processor edition of its database priced at $5,995 to appeal to medium-size companies, and it's courting independent software providers to embed Oracle 10g within their applications.

Oracle executives said current Oracle database applications will be able to run on 10g without significant modification. The company expects to include the Enterprise Manager and storage management software with its database and sell a separate version for clustering more than one database. Pricing for 10g will remain the same as for previous releases, Henley said.