Oracle sets its sights on Exchange users

Oracle Corp. has announced a migration service to lure users of Microsoft Corp.’s Exchange e-mail server to the Oracle9i database. But it’s difficult to find anyone other than Oracle who expects the initiative to make a dent in Exchange’s armour.

Oracle has offered an e-mail server product for several years but is only now aggressively targeting its chief rival, Microsoft, for a foothold in the messaging market.

Oracle Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison said he’s not looking to unseat the Outlook client, but rather the Exchange e-mail database on the back end.

“[Users] need the security, reliability and much lower cost,” said Scott Clawson, the director of Oracle9i product marketing. “[E-mail] is the one thing that was the highest [in] demand from our customers.”

Apples to Oranges

At Comdex/Fall 2001 in Las Vegas two weeks ago, Ellison spoke about the new service and acknowledged that Microsoft Exchange Server is priced far lower than Oracle’s database. But he argued that large companies need 25 or even 50 servers with the Microsoft software to handle the same amount of traffic as Oracle9i.

“I’d say you need at least 10 Exchange Servers to do this, or you’re too small to bother,” said Ellison.

Chris Baker, Microsoft’s lead product manager for Exchange, said Microsoft’s product can handle 10,000 users on a server in an application service provider model. He also pointed out that many of Outlook’s collaborative functions, like calendaring, don’t work without Exchange on the back end.

Oracle has some Web-based tools, like calendaring, but “you might lose some functionality there,” acknowledged Clawson.

The two dominant players in the corporate messaging market are Microsoft and IBM subsidiary Lotus Software Group.

“I really treat everything Larry Ellison says with a bit of scepticism,” said David Druker, an analyst at Ferris Research Inc. in San Francisco. Druker said it’s unlikely that many users will be willing to rip out their back-end e-mail systems in favour of Oracle. Lotus users especially look to the Notes/Domino messaging platform combination for collaborative database applications beyond e-mail, he said.

There isn’t a compelling reason for most companies to switch, Druker said, unless they’re already heavy Oracle database users and have the requisite database administrators in place.

“Oracle has had a mail offering for four or five years. It’s interesting that they would [push migration] now when the market has solidified around two products,” said Ed Brill, director of infrastructure marketing, messaging and collaboration products at Lotus. He said Lotus is happy to let Microsoft and Oracle “fight it out.”

Clawson said Oracle plans to ship a 9i plug-in for Notes and Domino in the near future.