Oracle pumps up e-business software

Oracle Corp. unveiled a sweeping set of middleware products last month, with new packaging and pricing, to fill in the missing pieces of its plan to become the leading supplier of e-business software.

But customers will be looking to see how easy Oracle actually makes it to interact with other third-party products — an increasingly urgent need as customers stitch together different businesses in electronic business relationships.

The centerpiece of the product offerings is likely the Oracle Integration Server (OIS), first announced last fall.

OIS is intended as a linchpin that holds together an array of interfaces and services that are needed to interconnect Oracle database applications with other middleware products and applications.

OIS includes:

The Lightweight Directory Access Protocol-compatible Oracle Internet Directory.

Oracle Message Broker, which implements the Java Message Service for application-to-application messaging.

A set of drivers to other message-queuing products, such as IBM’s MQSeries.

Oracle Workflow, for coordinating business processes, such as placing an order, and a set of modeling tools for creating these processes.

Data transformation services to coordinate how different applications represent such things as “customer” and “order.”

Adapters or interfaces to at least some products, such as SAP AG’s R/3 enterprise resource planning offering.

Other elements of the middleware plan include Oracle Application Server, which hosts applications written as collections of components called Enterprise Java Beans, and Net8, formerly called SQL*Net, which lets Oracle database applications run over an array of network protocols.

OIS and Oracle Application Server rely heavily on APIs and services that are part of the Java platform, including the Java Transaction Service and Java Naming Directory Interfaces.

But OIS (as well as Oracle Application Server) relies on features built into the Oracle 8i database, including what the company calls Advanced Queuing, which is an application-to-application messaging system residing in the database itself.

Oracle officials contend that putting this messaging structure in the database increases the reliability of the system and stores valuable data about the messages themselves.

But it’s precisely this decision to centre the middleware strategy on the Oracle database that may be problematic for some. In effect, Oracle’s approach is to treat all complex elements of interrelated applications like parts of an Oracle database, says Fred Meyer, vice-president of product at Tibco Software, a Palo Alto, Calif. vendor of sophisticated middleware.

“If this [set of products] all works, then Oracle has built a very high-performance [Java] applications server,” he says. “But this doesn’t give Oracle integration with third-party applications and legacy systems.”

Meyer points out that Oracle’s Advanced Queuing works only in the Oracle database. For outside connections, he says, it relies on Oracle’s Net8. “As far as I know, there is no stand-alone message broker,” he says. “Nor is there a workflow component that spans both Oracle and third-party applications.”

Tibco’s approach assumes there are different applications with different data models and sets up interfaces among them. “Enterprise customers may have 40 years of domain knowledge in their mainframes,” he says.

“That’s an immensely valuable corporate resource. They want to use that, unlock that and tie them together. But they don’t want to get rid of them [by trying to rewrite them into an Oracle database].”

Enterprise customers will have to ask questions such as how easy is it to use the Oracle products and how easy is it to maintain them over time.