Monash on Oracle

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Curt Monash has followed the performance of Oracle Corp. since 1982, first as a PaineWebber Inc. stock analyst and now in his current post as president and CEO of Monash Information Services and Elucidate Technologies LLC, Lexington, Mass. Monash stands out for predicting Oracle's fall from grace in 1991 and for his knowledge of the inner workings of the database giant. Monash discussed the state of Oracle today with Editor Mike Bucken and Managing Editor Jack Vaughan.

Is the Oracle strategy for leveraging the Internet a solid one or is it simply a way to make several distinct strategies appear as one, as some analysts have said?

I think it's pretty legitimate. One can view the Internet as a synthesis of the last great computing architectures after real-time mainframes and minicomputers and then PC client/server. The Internet is a natural adaptation for Oracle, and they should be believed in their commitment to it.

Is their technology adequate to be successful in the Internet world?

I think they have strong or competitive technology in a number of areas. They have a very strong database management system. The multimedia extensions have been promised to work well for several releases now. Clearly, they have been working on it longer than just about anyone else.

Do you see 8i as the next Oracle application server? If so, what happens to the Oracle Application Server?

The application server is looking like a secondary product. In other words, if you wish to have a certain topology, then the server is a good thing. If you're so big that your host machine has to run across multiple hardware systems, then Oracle's position is that the application server is helping offload among machines. If you can put everything on a single machine, and the machines are getting evermore bigger, then the application server may not have much point going forward. Oracle is moving much slower than they should in cleaning up the integration and interoperability of the server, the database, the different JVMs [Java Virtual Machines] used in each and so on.

Is that a technical issue?

It's a management issue. It's sort of an issue that arises in a large company with lots of developers. Oracle, IBM and Microsoft are all guilty of a multitude of sins that cause products not to be as coordinated as they should be.

Do you consider Oracle a major player in the development tool market?

Well, I'm not sure any independent company is finding it easy to be a strong player in the development tools business anymore. Microsoft and Oracle and other platform companies push tools to enable their platforms, to optimize their platforms. That makes it hard for other companies to compete if those tools [from the platform suppliers] are any good. It's hard for anyone to make money in the tools business. Tools seem to be obsolete before they are even mature because customers trust in the next great piece of functionality that the next generation enables. Not many customers are making big investments in tools.

Are the Oracle tools adequate to do the job that users need?

Their Internet tool strategy is unnecessarily confused. Both the traditional tools [Oracle Designer and Oracle Developer] and the otherwise excellent WebDB seemed to be sitting off as procedural and pre-object-oriented architectures. The Java developer code line that they got from [Inprise] is a fine code line, but it doesn't seem to be that well integrated with other products.

Will the lack of an integrated toolset hurt Oracle sales?

Well, it probably means there will be more VisualCaf├ęs [from Symantec] sold into their base. It's surprising how few fully featured Internet-savvy, object-oriented tools there are out there. It's also surprising what low share they have. One of the problems is that even the best tools don't do a good job of handling multimedia. Oracle and its competitors all have limited tools for handling text, image and video.

How important is the applications business to Oracle?

It's extremely important. Oracle has been pursuing the applications business for at least 15 years. And they've always taken the strategy of being potentially late with application features, but attempting to be superior in the technology platform. We all look at the same numbers. Oracle gets criticized for its success in the applications business. It's the largest application player by some measures.

What is Oracle's place in the database market today?

For high-end database offerings, other than in data warehousing, Oracle is the default option. Oracle has a bunch of smart people who love to take a very complex system -- that's been built up over many, many years -- and move it forward incrementally to do ever new and better things. And that is the sort of lead that is broken down slowly. Actually, something like that could fall under its own weight.

What issues does Oracle face in its competition with IBM and Microsoft?

Oracle's biggest issue is to be taken seriously as an Internet platform provider. They're taken seriously on the database side, and they're being taken seriously on the application side. The image of the whole has been less than the image of the parts.

What do you think of the leadership at Oracle, specifically Larry Ellison and Ray Lane?

I think they are very good for each other. Ray brings a lot that Larry doesn't have, and Larry is a smart enough man to recognize that, and vice versa. I think Larry Ellison is one of the great public speakers and showmen of the era.

What is the basis for the constant talk that Lane might leave Oracle for a CEO position at another company?

Some of it is financial opportunity. Oracle has to be sure to give Ray Lane the opportunity that matches or exceeds what he could get elsewhere. If the Internet stock boom continues, Oracle has to continue to make sure that Ray is very generously compensated. Ray has not been shy about that. In the past, he said the Oracle board is taking very good care of [him]. Ray has one of the great jobs for a large technology company manager. If financial metrics keep getting reset, then the metric to compensate Ray Lane also has to be reset.

About the Authors

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.