Some users slow to jump on 9i upgrade

Oracle Corp. last week unveiled an upgrade of its Oracle9i application server software and pitched its latest database to users, claiming that the two technologies can simplify the integration and management of corporate IT architectures.

Attendees at Oracle’s OpenWorld conference in San Francisco said they were intrigued by the claims. For example, the company pushed the clustering features of the Oracle9i database, which was released in June, as a way for users to save money on hardware costs.

But the new database has had only limited adoption thus far, said James Governor, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., so it’s hard to pass judgment on how its clustering capabilities will work in future installations. He said some server vendors may still need to tune their systems to support high-performance clustering.

Governor said the biggest 9i database rollouts to date have been on Compaq Computer Corp.’s Unix systems, which already include extensive clustering capabilities that were developed by Digital Equipment Corp. before it was acquired by Compaq.

In addition, not all users are ready to invest in Oracle’s new technology, given the current state of the economy and IT budgets. For example, a database administrator at a network hardware vendor that uses Oracle8i said his company is trying to hold off on an upgrade.

“We’re being told to make do with what we have,” said the administrator, who asked not to be identified. “We’d love to be in a position where we had to use [the clustering features in 9i].”

Certification Concerns

Other users are waiting for application vendors to certify their products for use with Oracle9i. That’s the case at Kingsport, Tenn.-based Eastman Chemical Co., which uses Oracle8i as the database for its SAP AG enterprise resource planning system, said George Miles, a senior systems associate at the chemical maker.

Miles said Eastman is interested in some of 9i’s new features, such as disk space management, which is supposed to boost performance and data availability. The company might upgrade next year, once SAP supports Oracle9i with its R/3 applications, he noted.

A spokesman for SAP America Inc. said R/3 should be tied to 9i by the middle of next year, but that won’t include Oracle’s Real Application Cluster technology, which SAP hasn’t yet committed to supporting.

Alwyn Santos, a database administrator at Comark Inc. in Bloomingdale, Ill., said the US$1.55 billion technology reseller is also waiting for SAP to certify 9i so it can upgrade. In addition, Santos, who didn’t attend OpenWorld, criticized Oracle’s database pricing and characterized the vendor as “greedy.” But, he said, 9i does appear to include “great technology.”

Oracle claimed that its prices are in line with the fees charged by other database vendors. In response to complaints from users, the company eliminated a controversial capacity-based licensing approach last spring and began switching its database users to per-processor pricing. Inc. has Oracle9i in limited use and is happy with the database’s performance and availability features, said Matthew Swann, director of database systems and engineering at the Seattle-based online retailer. But Swann said he’s putting off a full rollout of the database until after the holiday shopping season.

9i Upgrade Adds Java, Web Support

Release 2 of Oracle’s 9i Application Server is due to support Java 2 Enterprise Edition, as well as Web technologies such as the Simple Object Access Protocol and the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration directory of business-to-business services.

Oracle said a free developers’ edition of the upgrade is available for downloading from its Web site. Standard and enterprise editions of the software are scheduled to ship in the first quarter.

The California Public Employees Retirement System (Calpers) uses the 9i application server and expects the Java support in Release 2 to help reduce the cost of tying together different enterprise applications, said Jack Corrie, division chief of IT services for the Sacramento-based pension fund.

“Java 2 is a major piece of my strategy,” Corrie said. “It gives you the ability to have a strategy to move to a less-complex environment.” Calpers assembled its IT architecture in piecemeal fashion and has to do constant maintenance work and integration testing as applications are added or upgraded, he said.

Corrie’s annual operating budget totals approximately US$40 million. But the 9i software should reduce costs and ease integration complexity by providing a single platform for connecting applications, he said.

Mark Dixon, IT director of service provision at London-based Barclays Bank PLC, said the financial services firm is looking to roll out the 9i application server during the next two years to provide a unified, consistent technology infrastructure for its clients.

Barclays started going live with 9i late last month, even though it’s not a big user of Oracle’s flagship databases. The bank’s customer relationship management systems are built on Oracle software, but Dixon said Barclays relies primarily on the mainframe version of IBM’s DB2 database.

Scott Lee Clawson, director of application server and network services marketing at Oracle, said the software vendor views its application server as a separate product line that can be used by customers who have bought rival databases.

Dixon said Barclays is running IBM’s WebSphere application server on some systems as insurance; the bank has traditionally been an IBM shop and thus wanted to evaluate WebSphere as well.