Oracle 8i takes heat from the competition

The industry has now had time to digest the announcement of Oracle Corp.’s Oracle8i Internet database, and the reaction amongst the vendor’s competitors is a reaffirmation of existing strategies and increased rhetoric.

David Applebaum, vice-president of product marketing and product management at Menlo Park, Calif.-based Informix Corp., said Informix’s interpretation of the market continues to stand in contrast to Oracle’s.

“Oracle’s strategy is to throw as much as you possible can into the database,” Applebaum said. “Our strategy is functionally different — give the customers what they want to do the task.”

Applebaum made the comments while discussing the release of four new Informix database engines for its Dynamic Server and Extended Parallel Server products; the first, code-named Centaur, is designed for on-line transaction processing (OLTP) databases, made popular by the rise of e-commerce. Centaur lets developers build applications in Java or COM+. A follow-up to Centaur, called Pegasus, will include support for CORBA.

Another engine, code-named Yellowstone, is optimized for decision support data warehouses. Yellowstone is scheduled for release in 2000. Further down the road is Independence, which Informix is touting as the “ultimate release for the data warehousing customer.”

Informix also plans to market versions of Yellowstone to individual market segments, including retail, telecommunications and finance.

Ultimately, the new database engines will help customers create “smart data federations,” which enables corporate users to keep specialized departmental data warehouses or data marts, and still access all information, Applebaum said.

“Customers have significant amounts of data on other systems…and the idea there is that you don’t need to migrate that data to the one database,” he said, referring to the Oracle8i database model.

Applebaum said users are tired of the “holy war” that Oracle chief Larry Ellison and Bill Gates are engaged in over application development standards and the overall trend toward “Microsoft Office-ising of the database, which is just basically throw more and more features into the databases.”

Guido Smit, president of Sybase Canada in Mississauga, Ont., said individual data marts have the advantage of letting users fine-tune their query methods.

“If the data is stored in a way that is optimized for query purposes, you can really get quick response times,” he said. That’s why Sybase has been shipping Adaptive Server IQ, which when attached to an OLTP engine improves querying abilities, he added.

Phouc Ho, director of Informix services with Ottawa-based consultant firm Alcea Technologies Inc., said many of his clients like the idea of smaller, departmental databases which elicit “meaningful” data.

“I’m not saying the other (Oracle 8i) approach is bad…but a lot of the time when you have something big, the administration is going to be huge, because there’s so much to it,” he said.

But John Sawler, solutions marketing manager with Oracle Corporation Canada Inc. in Mississauga, Ont., maintains that the Oracle8i vision improves on the model of separate engines for separate purposes.

“Our strategy as a company is to say…’Deploy your applications over the Internet. It’s much more cost-effective, and you can centralize your database and you database administration and manage it from a centralized location,'” he said.

And if sales are any indication, Oracle’s vision of one database appears to be winning, according to Merv Adrian, senior analyst with Giga Information Group. Adrian said the market for companies like Informix and Sybase that lack the resources of bigger players will almost certainly shrink.

“At this point, partly it’s the fact that the rich get richer,” he said. “Even though Informix is ramping up their research and development investment…Oracle is spending U.S. half a billion a year. So is IBM. So is Microsoft. The top-tier vendors are spending an order of magnitude more money than the other guys.”

Adrian points to IBM as one of the companies that is setting its sites on Oracle. Recently, IBM issued a press release detailing a benchmark test that pitted the company’s DB2 Universal Database against Oracle8i on NT.

The result? IBM said it successfully ran a TPC-D Query No. 5 in “sub-seconds,” far below the almost two hour limit Oracle produced. According to IBM, this proves DB2’s ability to scale on NT.

However, Oracle’s Sawler points to the atypical number of CPUs — a 32-node cluster – that IBM used in the benchmark test as one mitigating factor. “And these very large data warehouses with one terabyte, where customers are looking to roll these things out and implement them, they’re not using NT,” Sawler added.

But Hershel Harris, director of database development with IBM Canada Ltd. in Markham, Ont., said DB2 beat 8i in several other configurations as well, and on a variety of Unix platforms.

“The benchmarks do not necessarily reflect what all customers are going to use. They’re intended to push the bounds…but it’s typical of the kinds of things we expect customers to do in the future, and are doing today on a smaller scale,” Harris said.

In the meantime, e-commerce will continue to affect the way users store and access information, and how vendors address that need, Giga’s Adrian said.

“There is more data than there has ever been before, and more ways to use it. And that’s business for the database vendors. So whatever happens in 1999, even if we have a (Y2K-related sales) hiccup, the database business is going to be back and it’s going to be as strong as it ever was.”