Oracle's long and winding repository road

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In recent years, Oracle's repository and meta data strategy has been somewhat thrown into flux as Java and, more recently, the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) data interchange standard have garnered attention. Some experts have even suggested that competitor Microsoft has gained a meta data advantage.

Some of Oracle's problems may be traced back to the demise of the company's long-awaited component-based development tool, code-named Sedona.

In June 1997, CEO Larry Ellison virtually pulled the plug on the project. Part of the problem, said observers, was that Java arrived on the scene as the object-based language of choice before Oracle could develop a Sedona perhaps oriented somewhat toward 4GL and client/server designs.

When Oracle talks about its meta data standard, it is described in grand, if not grandiose, terms. "In the past six months, Oracle, IBM, Unisys and six other companies have converged and are submitting a consistent unified meta data standard proposal [the Common Warehouse Metadata or CWM] to the OMG [Object Management Group]," said Mike Howard, Oracle's vice president of data warehousing. "That will be the standard, and Oracle will have a dominant position because of that. It is a fait accompli."

However, the CWM proposal will not be published through the OMG until September. And the Oracle development and repository tools that will support it are in what Howard calls "internal beta" with no scheduled release date.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's meta data standard, the Open Information Model (OIM), has been published on the Meta Data Coalition (MDC) Web site and is incorporated into the meta data repository that comes free with the latest version of SQL Server.

After Microsoft published OIM, "I wasn't surprised Oracle came up and said, 'We're going to have a standard meta model. We don't know what it is, but we're going to have one,'" said David Marco, an industry watcher and president of Palos Hills, Ill.-based Enterprise Warehousing Solutions Inc.

To jump-start its standards development, Oracle recently acquired One Meaning, a U.K.-based company that had what industry analysts and consultants considered very good meta data technology.

The company also has a presence in the Silicon Valley.

"It was a good purchase for Oracle," said Marco. "They pretty much took [One Meaning's] models, modified them and said these are going to be the standards."

Mitchell Kramer, an analyst with the Patricia Seybold Group in Boston, said he also liked One Meaning's technology, although he wonders if there has not been a culture clash between the acquired and the acquirer. "Oracle has a history of difficulty in digesting acquisitions," he noted.

This might be a contributing factor to Marco's view that Oracle still does not have its meta data act together. "Microsoft certainly has the lead," said Marco. "Oracle is working hard to try to catch up. But right now you're not hearing any specifics coming out of there. I just talked to one of their head people recently and I got 'I can't talk about it right now.'"

Seybold's Kramer, who is a skeptic about grand unified meta data standards, agrees that Microsoft's OIM is a practical, if not grand, standard -- which may be the best the industry is likely to get.

Not surprisingly, Oracle's Howard hotly disputes the idea that Microsoft has anything too especially worthwhile. "Microsoft joined the Meta Data Coalition to try to own the standard through that means," he said. "The Meta Data Coalition has consistently been a failure in trying to provide a standard to the marketplace. So the MDC joined OMG. However, they are not submitting anything. Basically, either Microsoft will be relegated to a bridge strategy -- they probably are so locked into their model that they're not going to be able to change, and therefore will use some kind of interchange or bridge technology to go to and from the [CWM] standard and their own [OIM] world -- or they will have to change," he added.

But Seybold's Kramer, who says he does not necessarily like to see Microsoft always win, is not so sure the Redmond company is going to lose.

And Marco, who said he has plenty of critical things to say about the shortcomings of the Microsoft standard, still believes it is the best thing developers have to work with. He predicts it will begin to be used in meta data repository within the next six months in the marketplace..

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.