In-Depth

On top of the RDB mountain

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Who is first in relational databases today? There has been some trading of places (and some slicing and dicing of market definitions) but, with Informix, CA-Ingres and Sybase less visibly vibrant, IBM and Oracle can claim the top of the enterprise RDBMS bill.

"Oracle for the first time exceeded IBM in overall DBMS revenue in 1997," said Merv Adrian, a vice president in the Santa Clara, Calif., offices of Giga Information Group, a Norwell, Mass.-based consulting firm. "But IBM stormed back in 1998." On the NT platform, he said, "Microsoft lost its lead in 1997 to Oracle, and failed to win it back in 1998.

"The market has clearly identified the two top-tier players -- IBM and Oracle," said Adrian at the recent GigaWorld IT Forum held in Scottsdale, Ariz.

This database prowess, competitors are quick to assert, could be a drawback for Oracle. A principal issue: Does the business logic integral to the system go with the database or on an application server? The future, say Adrian and others, is to isolate such logic from the RDBMS.

In 1998, Oracle pushed its application server as the place for such logic, but this year it has also vigorously promoted the Oracle 8i database. Some analysts have said the company hopes to tie applications more closely to its database again. "There are two completely different management chains that merge at Larry [Ellison]," said Carl Zetie, senior industry analyst at Giga. In this regard, Zetie posits a variation on the slogan "Internet changes everything." Rephrased, it is "Ellison changes everything."

"Even though Oracle has embraced the application server, the positioning of 8i is still fuzzy," said Giga's Adrian. "Oracle misses a lot of potential with its application server because they don't acknowledge that people might use an application without an Oracle database.

"But even though the positioning isn't right there, they have an application server -- Microsoft doesn't," opines Adrian.

"The fundamental change we are about to undergo in the database market is the reversal of the decade-long trend of moving logic into the database," he added.

Although sometimes allied with Oracle for Java (and against Microsoft), IBM is heatedly contesting Oracle's RDBMS position -- in fact, some analysts suggest Oracle has lately turned its competitive sight somewhat more toward IBM and less toward Microsoft. Said rival Steve Mills, general manager of IBM's Software Solutions Division, "Oracle is so incredibly database-centric in their thinking, it's hard for them to deliver things without the database."

A motto for the company is often "never lose the database sale," said Giga's Zetie. "It's tattooed on their foreheads." This comment is heard again and again when surveying industry pundits on Oracle application development strategies.

-- Lana Gates and Jack Vaughan

About the Authors

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

Lana Gates is a freelance writer based in Mesa, Arizona. She can be reached via e-mail at freelancewriter@gates-works.com.

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