Ellison may make room for other databases

SAN FRANCISCO – Oracle will be consulting with customers and partners to decide whether it will offer middleware integration support to databases other than its own, including IBM’s DB2, chief executive Larry Ellison told its user conference.

Speaking to a packed audience of approximately 8,000 of the 35,000 people attending this year’s OpenWorld, Ellison late Wednesday said Oracle has already formed a series of user groups and business councils with whom it will discuss the issue, which would mark a strategic shift in the way the company competes in the database market. Oracle has spent much of this week discussing Fusion, the name for the middleware software that includes its application server, portal and other tools. Oracle has already said this week that Fusion products will run on IBM’s middleware, WebSphere.

“Everything being equal, we would like to give you as many choices as possible,” Ellison said. “We’ll be talking to customers who have chosen to go with SQL or DB2, and find out why they did that.”

The decision will require a long, careful process, Ellison added, though he noted that some Oracle subsidiaries, such as its recently acquired i-Flex banking software unit, were built on Oracle but are already supporting DB2. “If you ask me today which way I think it’s going to go, it’s a toss of a coin,” he said. “The big issue, as I see it, is going to be the portability (of the database) versus a little extra security.”

Ellison used his keynote speech to outline Oracle’s areas of focus for the next two years. These include beefing up security, particularly as more Oracle customers offer e-commerce, order tracking for their customers or employees remote access to corporate systems. “A big debate in Oracle right now is whether we should allow customers to back up data that’s not encrypted,” he said. “I think no.”

Automation of manual-intensive processes such as storage management and the patching of computers will also occupy the company’s time, Ellison said. Automated patching in particular could help create the illusion that a grid computing environment is similar to managing a single machine, he said. Oracle has been pushing grid computing since the launch of its 10g database three years ago. “Once we get over that last hurdle, we think all our customers will move to grids,” he said.

Ellison admitted his goals for Oracle – which also encompass enhancing its business intelligence tools, fine-tuning its database for industry verticals and intrusion detection – may seem challenging in light of the pressure to digest its many recent acquisitions. He argued, however, that the addition of PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards, and more recently Siebel, will mean a company that invests US$2 billion in R&D. “Scale is very important in this business,” he said.

While Ellison focused on the future of his applications business and the integration of its various product lines, users at OpenWorld were still trying to use older systems to solve current challenges. Shell Canada Ltd., for example, hosted a session on how it is trying to achieve compliance with the United States’ Sarbanes-Oxley (SoX) regulations by the end of this year.

According to Sue Shaw, staff systems analyst with the Calgary, Alta.-based firm, Shell is using J.D. Edwards Enterprise One suite, having been a JDE OneWorld user since 1994. Though its migration began in 1998, she said the work is ongoing.

“Co-existence is really a pain,” she said. “Most of them are on now, but we still have a lot of batch users going on in World.”

Shell’s investment in the JDE project is substantial, Shaw said. The company has developed approximately 5,000 custom objects, some of which are clones of the JDE code. As part of the SoX project, Shaw said Shell Canada issues system IDs that can be traced back to individual user accounts, whereas she said Oracle’s database traces back activity to machines. “That doesn’t work for SoX,” she said, because machines can be used by more than one person.

Ellison reiterated Oracle’s commitment this week to lifetime support for all of the applications it now owns, and told users they shouldn’t be scared of its move into the applications space. “We will not coerce anyone from moving off of a platform that they’re happy with,” he said.

Oracle OpenWorld wrapped up Thursday.

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