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As the Oracle Ecosphere Evolves, So Do Its Participants


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Oracle is a fast-changing company, and in recent years, its pace has accelerated to blinding speed. The software giant has expanded well beyond its relational database roots to encompass applications, management tools, service-oriented architecture and middleware, and even hardware. There are now many components to Oracle - from three major databases, to enterprise resource applications, to web applications to development languages to open source desktop tools.

Many of these changes have resulted from changes of focus for the company; many others as a result of the company's breathtaking range of acquisitions, from Sun Microsystems to Hyperion.

How can IT managers, developers, and partners keep up with such a fast-changing giant in the market? What kind of ecosphere is evolving?  And will the various components - from the Java Community to Solaris-SPARC server users to open-source proponents - see a common vision emerging from all this?

To gain insights on these changes, DBTA spoke to a number of Oracle industry partners, and assembled a list of the eight leading categories of the Oracle ecosphere.

DIVERSIFICATION AND RAPID GROWTH

No question, the Oracle of today is far different than the Oracle of just 3 years ago. "Oracle has a lot to talk about these days - six new acquisitions completed or pending since the beginning of 2010, details about the Sun integration rolling-out, and their fiscal year 2010 financial results which include a 20 percent increase in partner transactions year-over-year," Beth Vanni, director of market intelligence in charge of Amazon Consulting, tells DBTA. "The Redwood Shores giant is, no doubt, a global industry leader with a massive portfolio and influence to match."

During this time, "Oracle has created a dominant position across large enterprises," agrees Uday Tembulkar, head of the Oracle ERP Practice unit at Patni. "While continuing to grow its traditional database and tools business, Oracle has through a string of acquisitions, created a strong presence in the applications space," he tells DBTA. "If you look at the top 1,000 global companies, it is very unlikely that they don't have at least two to three Oracle products. From content management to testing tools, Oracle has an offering in every possible IT area."

As a result, Oracle's story for the last few years has been one of rapid growth and diversification, with a lot of new technology that now falls within the Oracle ecosphere. But all roads lead back to the database. For example, observes Charlie Silver, CEO of Algebraix, Oracle is "getting aggressive in areas outside networking, including enterprise software, smart grid applications and managing sensor networks."  But these all have one thing in common, he tells DBTA. "The one consistent component in all these high-growth areas is the massive volumes of data being produced. As the amount of data in any given enterprise grows, that data will become increasingly difficult to manage using relational model-based technologies. Since Oracle's applications are generating all of this data and they also do have general tools for data management, they're sure to be the first point of contact for a substantial portion of customers in this market."

Silver adds that while Oracle is a huge company, it can't handle all of these requirements singlehandedly. While Oracle "has a great lineup of baseline products like Exadata, Oracle Data Warehousing and Oracle Database 11g, they'll need to rely increasingly on technology partners for more specialized data-related products that are optimal for different types, volumes and applications of data," he points out.

The Oracle "universe" has also become far more complex than before, Tembulkar says. "Globally, ERP and CRM revenues have faded but Oracle has driven its growth through its edge applications and technology offerings. There was a period in time when clients were concerned about whether Oracle would continue to grow the acquired products and retain those customers. Oracle has managed to do this part especially well and in quite a few cases customer satisfaction is higher than before. This factor is helping Oracle's constant expansion into different aspects of the IT value chain."

OPEN SOURCE DATABASES

There's no question that open source databases have made many inroads into Oracle enterprises, serving roles such as data stores for peripheral applications and departments. In a recent Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG) survey of 381 members, 44% report running instances of the open source MySQL database at their sites. Once considered a potential competitive threat to Oracle, MySQL is now part of the Oracle family of products as a result of the acquisition of MySQL's parent company, Sun Microsystems. 

This has led to no end of speculation about how Oracle will handle the open source offering. Industry observers interviewed in this article say Oracle will continue to support MySQL in its current form, however. "Loyal users and supporters of MySQL have nothing to worry about," Sam Alapati, senior technical director for Miro Consulting, Inc., and author of eight books on Oracle. "I believe that Oracle will continue to keep MySQL thriving for many reasons," he tells DBTA. "MySQL has over a 12 million installed base, with tens of thousands of daily downloads. Oracle is never going to risk bringing down the wrath of all these users on itself - makes for incredibly bad publicity as well as it not making any business sense."

Oracle, for its part, emphasizes its intentions to expand on the open-source product, stating that its goals for MySQL are to continue to enhance the product with new features, including performance and quality improvements, and enhance the MySQL support experience for customers. Oracle also intends to offer integrated management, backup and security tools for joint Oracle Database and MySQL customers.

In fact, MySQL may even be opening new, untapped market segments for Oracle. "MySQL today is largely used for small and not very complex requirements," Sanjay Ruwali, practice head for database management at Wipro Technologies, tells DBTA. "For Oracle, it was never a competition when it comes to large, complex and mission critical applications. MySQL gives Oracle an opportunity to address a large market segment which finds Oracle database costs prohibitive for their small needs."

Plus, MySQL is still a revenue source in terms of service and support, Alapati adds. "While Oracle continues to give away one version of MySQL - MySQL Community Server - as an open source freebie, they charge for the high-end MySQL Enterprise Server and related management offerings," he points out. "When small firms using the free open source version wish to upgrade, they now have two choices: Oracle's own flagship Oracle Database software, or the MySQL Enterprise Server - whichever direction customers go, it adds to Oracle's bottom line."

Oracle publicly acknowledges that MySQL helps complete Oracle's ability to offer a complete stack of software and hardware from applications to disk, based on open standards, built, tested and serviced together.

Other industry participants also agree Oracle will continue to support the open source database. "MySQL's growth has been unperturbed by the new ownership and it continues to increase as a popular platform," Kyle Hailey, program manager for database performance and optimization products for Embarcadero Technologies, tells DBTA. In addition, there are opportunities for cross-platform tools from partners as well. "Considering the popularity and number of sites that have MySQL, along with Oracle, Sybase, SQL Server or DB2, it appears to be a ripe market for cross-platform tools that work both on MySQL and other databases," he adds.

FLAGSHIP DATABASES

Oracle released the most current version of its database, Oracle 11g, in July 2007. Since then, adoption has slowly grown within enterprises. The most recent IOUG survey data, from late 2009, showed 28% of its members on Oracle 11g - up from 8% the year before. Version 10g was still the most prevalent, however, with 87% maintaining instances of this database at their sites.

It can be said that 11g adoption is steady and ongoing. Ruwali says he has seen steady adoption of Oracle 11g among Wipro's customer base. "The adoption rate as of today is in the range of 10% to 15%, and we expect it to grow in the coming two to three quarters," he says. "11g adoption is high for the new application development area where some of the new features like enhancements in table partitioning, real-time query capability on the standby server, Oracle Total Recall and Real Application Testing are considered very useful."

Since Oracle is such an expansive and sophisticated platform, adoption across enterprises is gradual. "Upgrading an Oracle database is one of the biggest decisions for an IT manager," says Alapati. "Not only must the manager take into account the potential problems such as breaking well-running programs when upgrading the Oracle code, but also the linkages between the database and other components such as  the application server and applications such as Oracle's own E-Business Suite and PeopleSoft, each of which may have their own specific requirements for a successful upgrade to Oracle Database 11g."

In fact, Oracle reports it has seen "a significant uptake in adoption" of 11g, especially on the heels of the general availability of Release 2 last September.  The company also believes that adoption may be propelled by the introduction of Oracle Exadata V2, which only runs on Oracle Database 11g Release 2.

There has been speculation about Oracle's next major database release, but industry observers aren't even ready to comment about its timing or content. "There's no way for anyone to predict what the next release, Oracle 12, will offer in the way of enhancements," says Alapati. "Oracle keeps a tight lid on the new features until the product is officially launched." Alapati estimate that Oracle will most likely open up the beta program for Oracle Database 12 "towards the end of this year."

SECURITY TAKES A FRONT SEAT

In the most recent survey of members of the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG), 31% said they expected a major data breach within their enterprises over the next 12 months. Yet, only 29% report encrypting sensitive data where it occurs across all databases. Clearly, security is a major impetus across the Oracle community, and there's a lot of work to be done. "Going into 2010, we're repeatedly witnessing pervasive bad behaviors with respect to database security," says Phil Lieberman, CEO of Lieberman Software, a provider of enterprise security and privileged identity management solutions and long-time Oracle partner. Examples include "Common and unchanged DBA accounts being used by multiple administrators, with no ability to audit the actions performed by the database administrators, and unchanged application to database account credentials."

Oracle itself seems to be pushing solutions more strongly. "In each new release of its database and app server software, Oracle is has sought to provide stronger built in security features," says Alapati. "For example, Oracle has included stronger password protection, such as case sensitive passwords and easy discovery of users with default passwords."

Oracle says features in its 11g database address internal security, with new safeguards against breaches by privileged users and administrators. Features such as Oracle Database Vault help protect against the threat by malicious insiders, outsourced administrators, or outside hackers misusing employee credentials to access application data, and Oracle Audit Vault also offers the means to track user activities for compliance and security reasons.

Other areas where Oracle has been promoting more robust security approaches not only include data security, but also privacy and compliance mandates, says Ruwali. "There's a high rate of adoption for all types of database usage for native database security features, including user management, roles and privileges, and database auditing." Ruwali is seeing greater adoption of "advanced security features like data encryption, virtual private databases, fine grain auditing," and also reports seeing Oracle Database Vault "gaining popularity as a powerful tool for addressing regulatory compliance requirements."

Oracle's recent acquisition of the database security company Secerno also expands data security capabilities within the Oracle space. The acquisition demonstrates that "Oracle intends to be a player in the still emerging field of database activity monitoring, also called database firewalls, which uses advanced interception techniques to prevent the execution of suspicious or fraudulent SQL code in the database," says Alapati. The move also enabled Oracle to catch up with IBM in the digital asset management [DAM] market. "I think currently Oracle has the best set of GRC [governance, risk and compliance] tools in the market among all enterprise database vendors," he adds.

Oracle publicly states that with its Secerno acquisition, customers can monitor network activity to the Oracle and non-Oracle databases and help prevent unauthorized access and SQL injection attacks launched from the web.

DATA WAREHOUSING

In 2008, Oracle raised a lot of interest when it unveiled Exadata, initially positioning it as a data warehouse appliance. However, this positioning has shifted, Alapati says. He also clears up a misconception about the appliance: "Although everyone refers to it as Exadata, the formal name for Oracle's database device is Sun Oracle Database Machine," he says. "Exadata refers to the storage component of the Oracle Database machine." It also appears Oracle is expanding the role of the product beyond data warehousing. The original Exadata was designed to compete with Teradata and Netezza, both of which offer large data warehouse appliances. "Now, in Version 2, Oracle is clearly positioning Exadata for OLTP applications as well," says Alapati. "Therefore, we can't see Exadata as merely a data warehousing solution any longer. Exadata performance for data warehouse apps seems comparable to that of Teradata and it does have an edge over all the others in the OLTP arena. In the coming days, Oracle will push Exadata for all types of applications."

In Oracle's view, the Sun Oracle Database Machine has, in fact, helped change the scope of data warehousing for its customers, claiming up to 100 times faster performance than traditional data warehouses. Sun Oracle Database Machine also addresses OLTP and mixed workload customers as well.

Hailey also sees an expansive growth for the product set. "Exadata is changing and will continue to change the face of large database installations," he says. "Oracle has made selling Exadata such a high priority that the impact will be sweeping. Data warehousing may be the first area that's impacted, but the greatest change will come with the database-in-a-box paradigm - where the machinery comes pre-wired for a database and pre-installed for a database."

APPLICATION MONITORING AND MANAGEMENT

Along with databases, Oracle offers products designed to enhance application and Web performance and scalability. The company recently released the latest edition of its application performance product - Oracle Enterprise Manager 11g - which integrates more tightly with its WebLogic middleware environment.

Industry observers have mixed impressions about the new release, which they say has few new features. "The new version is very similar to Enterprise Manager 10g, but comes with an important difference," says Alapati. "While Oracle provided an application server along with 10g, clients must install Oracle WebLogic Server before they can install Enterprise Manager 11g." 

Other observers agree that 11g is very similar to the previous release. "Enterprise Manager hasn't changed much since 10g was released, so there has been little fanfare since then," says Hailey. The biggest improvements with 11g, he adds, "are the automatic configuration and display of adaptive baselines, as well as the addition of real-time SQL monitoring."

Ruwali observes that the latest release "provides wider coverage for database as well as for application, middleware and underlying hardware layer." However, a drawback to the database management functionality is the fact that many companies have mixed database environments. "For monitoring layer, large heterogeneous set-ups worldwide, companies still rely more on a generic enterprise tool like BMC Patrol or HP OpenView. Most firms have more than one flavor of database technology in use, and Oracle Enterprise Manager tends to be more beneficial for Oracle environments."

There are many parts to the Oracle juggernaut, and the areas covered here are a few of the significant areas of the ecosphere being reshaped and expanded by the software giant's relentless growth and diversification.  As a result of its many acquisitions, there are many offerings that may see additional support or changes in direction. Tembulkar points to one application set that so far has been under the radar of Oracle's range of activities. "Personally, I am interested in watching what Oracle does with Open Office," he says. "It's an opportunity to take on Microsoft and Google Apps and enter the consumer space." Yet another new direction for this constantly expanding ecosphere.


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