Oracle adding business intelligence to database

Oracle Corp. said Tuesday that it is folding its OLAP (online analytical processing engine), data mining, and ETL (extraction, transformation and loading) tools into its database engine with the release of 9i, expected in the second half of next year. The goal is to make BI tools accessible to more users.

Aiming to bring decision support to the masses, database vendors have been adding data analysis features to their core database engines to reposition the databases as both data managers and business intelligence platforms.

Oracle’s vision involves its 9i database as the centerpiece of a conglomeration of integrated back-end applications, such as ERP and CRM, all of which are accessible to BI tools through a portal interface. The portal itself comprises what Oracle calls Portlets, or views into back-end data sources.

A marketing manager, for example, can have in his portal a Portlet to an OLAP cube containing data about how a particular marketing campaign is going. From the portal, the manager can drill down deeper into the data source to try and figure out why the campaign is not working as planned.

Microsoft, when it brought an online analytical processing (OLAP) server into SQL Server 7.0, was one of the first vendors to move in the direction of melding databases with business intelligence tools.

Although the Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft may have helped pioneer the concept, other vendors, such as Oracle, IBM, and NCR are carrying on the torch.

“The idea is more and more [functionality] actually in the database, with less and less surrounding the database,” said Mike Schiff, vice president of e-business and BI at Current Analysis, a Sterling, Va.-based market research firm. “The result is that it increases performance because of the strong database engine.”

“The new BI user is everyone,” said Jagdish Mirani, Oracle’s senior director of data warehousing product marketing. “I don’t think we’ll see many applications in the future that don’t have BI.”

Indeed, traditional BI vendors, such as Cognos, Business Objects, Informatica, and Microstrategy have been working over the last several months to make BI easier to use, thereby extending the scope of employees who benefit from it.

IBM, for its part, is partnering with a number of vendors, such as Hyperion Solutions to provide an end-to-end offering of its own. And IBM is moving BI tools into the core engine as well.

“We capitalize on end-to-end hardware and software, and the coupling there is very tight,” said Harry Kolar, IBM’s director of business intelligence strategy.

“DB2 [IBM’s database] is certainly at the heart of the overall BI platform.”

While most of the database vendors are working toward a database-centric BI offering, analysts say that Oracle, at least at this point, has the pole position in terms of technology.

“It gives Oracle a differentiation point because the other vendors don’t have [Oracle’s] Discover [query and analysis tool], reporting capabilities, or smart caching,” said Peter Urban, a senior analyst at AMR Research, in Boston.

But analysts also expressed caution over the migration path from Oracle’s current offerings to those in the forthcoming 9i database and application server duo.

“The migration path is shrouded in the fog of technology,” said Lou Agosta, an analyst at Giga Information Group, in Cambridge, Mass. “Once you give users a power tool, they don’t typically react well to being told they have to make a full-scale migration to the next version.”