In-Depth

The i gets bigger at Oracle

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To survive, high-tech companies must constantly re-invent themselves. Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif., has followed that adage and has survived and, for the most part, thrived for more than 20 years in the cutthroat database, applications and development tools business.

Today, Oracle is re-inventing itself as, surprise, an Internet company. The company has moved quickly -- especially quickly considering its multibillion dollar size -- canceling plans for a complex line of repository-based client/server development tools while adding Internet and Java technologies to its Oracle database.

As a matter of fact, its flagship relational database is now dubbed Oracle 8i, (the i stands for Internet, of course). multibillion dollar size -- canceling plans for a complex line of repository-based client/server development tools while adding Internet and Java technologies to its Oracle database. As a matter of fact, its flagship relational database is now dubbed Oracle 8i, (the i stands for Internet, of course).

Some observers have described Oracle's recent moves as somewhat schizophrenic, with a product strategy that is constantly shifting and several product and company acquisitions that seem rather unrelated. These observers say that such actions by Oracle send mixed messages to IT organizations. At the same time, other observers credit the database giant with an ability to rapidly shift direction in the fast-changing Internet world. These experts note that several competitors, such as Sybase Inc. and Informix Corp., suffered mightily in recent years due to an inability to quickly shift bearings. Informix has started to rebound as more of a niche player, while Sybase continues its strategic struggles.

"This is the Web age," Chairman and Chief Executive Lawrence Ellison told a gathering of press and analysts at the Oracle iDeveloper conference held earlier this year in Burlingame, Calif. Ellison hit upon many of the key Internet words and phrases embraced by Oracle -- Java, component-based development, Enterprise JavaBeans(EJB), JDBC, servlets, CORBA, Java stored procedures -- in an effort to convince the gathering of his commitment to the new paradigm.

Ellison maintains that Oracle has virtually eliminated its smaller database competition and is better positioned than larger rivals Microsoft Corp. and IBM to take advantage of the rush of IT organizations looking to use new Internet technology to boost sales and cut costs. Microsoft, he said, continues to drive the computing approach of "running little cheap servers everywhere, [an idea] that was conventional wisdom until just recently. All of a sudden, that has changed" due to the Internet, which is best utilized with fewer large servers. IBM, he said, has large servers, but those mainframes "are too difficult to program." According to Ellison, Oracle's Internet database, its focus on Java and new Internet extensions to Oracle applications provide a healthy ;competitive advantage. Microsoft and IBM dispute this Ellison gospel.

Oracle's myriad strategic directions over the years can usually be traced somehow to Ellison, who founded the firm in 1977. Ellison is credited with the company's early success as a relational database trailblazer that, along with IBM's DB2, crushed the first independent makers of non-relational DBMS systems. Ellison rode the wave for more than a decade before an emerging group of relational DBMS competitors like Sybase, Ingres and Informix, coupled with some severe management missteps at Oracle, led to a series of losses and layoffs that had many analysts questioning whether the firm would survive. Ellison was pilloried throughout the early 1990s by Wall Street analysts, industry consultants, the press and several key users for questionable financial and marketing management practices. Through much of the rest of the 1990s, however, Ellison has been applauded for leading the company to a comeback many thought impossible.

About the Author

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

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