Oracle adds wireless, voice to app server

Oracle Corp. will boost support for wireless and voice applications in the upcoming version of its Oracle 9i Application Server, one of several enhancements highlighted by the vendor as it officially launched the product at Oracle OpenWorld last week.

Oracle hopes Oracle Application Server Release 2, which is due to be released in the first quarter next year, will help it gain ground on BEA Systems Inc., IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.’s iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions subsidiary, all of which lead the applications server market according to the most recent figures from market research company Dataquest Inc., a division of Gartner Inc.

Application servers offer a software platform that developers can build a range of business applications that can be accessed by employees, customers or partners. They provide a kind of middleware layer of software that can pull information from a database and reformat it for delivery to a PC, a server at another company, or a gadget like a cell phone or a PDA.

The 9i Application Server’s new voice and wireless features should help boost worker productivity and at the same time save companies money, because the features can be used with relatively little in the way of special skills or hardware, according to Oracle.

The company has already said its new application server will add support for the latest version of Java, version 1.3, as well as standards for building Web services such as WSDL (Web Service Description Language) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), and software that makes it easier to cluster applications.

In addition, it revealed Tuesday that developers will be able to write applications that can make automatic voice calls alerting users to important events. It will also add programming interfaces allowing J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) applications to deliver text messages to wireless devices using protocols like SMS (Short Message Service), the company said in a statement.

The application server will also come with a J2EE application called Mobile E-Mail that allows companies to add wireless or voice capabilities to e-mail and communication programs like Microsoft Corp.’s Exchange and Lotus Software Group’s Lotus Notes.

Other enhancements include support for location-based services that deliver image maps, phone directory listings or driving directions to wireless gadgets; improved security based on the WTLS and HTTP-S standards, and software that allows carriers to link their applications to an e-commerce payment systems so that mobile users can make purchases on the go, Oracle said.

Finally, the vendor said it plans to launch an online portal resource for developers that are building wireless applications.

Oracle also said Tuesday that it is incorporating new Web portal-building capabilities into the application server upgrade. It claimed to have attracted more than 2,500 new customers to the current version of Oracle 9i Application Server in the first quarter of its fiscal year 2002, including Bank of Ireland, Calpers, CargoSmart Ltd. and DCTech, according to a separate statement.

Steve Williams, IT manager for the U.S. Coast Guard’s financial center in Chesapeake, Va., said he plans to upgrade to the Oracle 9i Application Server Release 2, as well as to the Oracle 9i database, sometime next year. The organization currently uses Oracle 8i database and an older version of its application server, called simply Oracle Application Server, which he said is buggy.

Williams skipped the first version of the 9i application server, released in June, because using the first release of an upgraded product is usually “painful,” he said.

The Coast Guard is upgrading because it wants to use the portal feature in the 9i Application Server, which will allow it to build a Web site where the U.S. government and other customers can access financial applications and view invoices. The invoices are stored as TIF files in its database, where there are currently about three million images, he said.

The Coast Guard’s several financial applications are deployed currently in a client/server model. Moving them to a portal should help reduce administration costs by allowing the Coast Guard to define user profiles once for the portal, rather than separately for each application, he said. It should also allow customers to pay their invoices more promptly.

“When you send the government an invoice you wait a month,” he said. “Now (with a portal) they should respond in a few days.”

Chuck Lewis, a database administrator also with the Coast Guard, said he’d like to see the software running in a production environment to make sure that Oracle’s claims about the 9i Application Server aren’t “smoke and mirrors.” He’d like to have seen booths at OpenWorld where some of Oracle’s largest customers, such as Inc., offer demonstrations of how they use the Oracle software.

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