Eye on Oracle

August 12, 2009  4:13 PM

Gartner says Oracle Siebel CRM, CRM on Demand still have that Magic

Shayna Garlick Shayna Garlick Profile: Shayna Garlick

When last year’s Sales Force Automation (SFA) rankings for Gartner’s Magic Quadrant were released, it seemed like Oracle’s E-Business suite and PeopleSoft CRM had lost some of their magic, as they were noticeably absent from the annual list.

Has the trend continued this year?

It looks that way. Once again, Oracle CRM made the leader’s quadrant of the 2009 Magic Quadrant for SFA, but Oracle’s Siebel CRM and Oracle CRM on Demand were the CRM products that were recognized.

Gartner describes leaders of SFA as demonstrating a “market-defining vision of how technology can help the top sales executives achieve business objectives.” According to Oracle’s press release, Gartner places vendors in a particular market segment by their “completeness of vision and their ability to execute on that vision.”

So how does Oracle Siebel CRM and CRM on Demand fit in?

Oracle Siebel CRM helps organizations get maximum top-and bottom-line growth with a mix of transactional, analytical and engagement features, according to the press release. And Oracle CRM on Demand offers a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform with advanced core CRM functionality and features for all different types of companies.

Oracle continues to make advancements in its CRM capabilities, such as its recent collaboration with Google — a partnership that may help them compete against Salesforce.com, which was also named a leader in this year’s SFA Magic Quadrant. The Oracle-Google collaboration includes a beta version of its Oracle Gadget Wizard for Google Apps and Oracle Siebel CRM support for Google Apps like Google’s Secure Data Connector (SDC).

How much do you think Oracle CRM has advanced in the past year? What do you think Oracle is doing well with CRM and how do you think it could improve?

August 5, 2009  3:55 PM

Will Oracle users take the bailout?

Ed Scannell Ed Scannell Profile: Ed Scannell

While there hasn’t been a loud outcry from users about Oracle’s recent price hikes on selected database modules, by taking such action during such difficult times Redwood Shores did nothing to endear themselves either.

There hasn’t been a lot of hollering about the price hikes, of course, because many corporate accounts are locked into long term software licensing agreements they can do little about until the agreements expire. And the same for maintenance agreements which go hand in hand with the software agreements.

Still, it is perplexing why in the midst of The Great Recession Oracle would raise prices by thousands of dollars on some products when some of its best customers are counting pennies as well as the minutes until this crisis eases.

It is true that the elevated prices represent merely a starting point in negotiations between Oracle and it customers. There is nothing stopping Oracle from dropping those prices in behind closed doors talks, but why poke the rattlesnake with a stick?

But it is moments like this where some frustrated users leave open that door to exploring opportunities to lower cost options, even if it is only for one-off departmental solutions.

This week, a relatively small open source database make, Enterprise DB may have given some frustrated users reason to keep that door to alternatives open.

With some clever marketing the company announced its Oracle Migration Assessment Program — which the company with a wry smile calls the Oracle Bailout Program – is designed as an enticement to attract users away from Oracle’s database lineup and sky high licensing fees, and over to the decidedly less expensive Postgres Plus Advanced Server.

“Oracle’s price hikes might be good news for those on Wall Street, but they’re terrible news for IT departments trying to function in the worst economy since the Great Depression,” said Ed Boyajian, the president and CEO of EnterpriseDB. True enough.

Admittedly however the program sounds a bit gimmicky, EnterpriseDB dreamed it up in direct reaction to the July 1 price increases. And the company is not releasing names of those who are interested in migrating away from Oracle. But the company’s timing could be just about right. So it is safe to say there isn’t a land rush toward the program.

The “bailout” essentially helps enterprise customers migrate any and all applications running on top of Oracle databases to the Postgres product, which is an open source based database with a built in Oracle compatibility layer. EnterpriseDB officials said they are guaranteeing no disruptions to an IT shop’s operation during a migration, truly a brave statement.

Enterprise officials may be going too far in saying the price hikes to the performance and tuning packs and other database options are indicative of what they will do with their newly acquired open-source bauble, MySQL. Only the good Lord and Larry Ellison know what they will do with MySQL, and I am betting the former is even a bit in the dark.

But if EnterpriseDB and other open source comrades can come up with some creative approaches that make financial sense, they could apply pressure on Oracle to lower pricing on its proprietary products and even force them to make a more obvious commitment to open source.

July 24, 2009  4:39 PM

Toad for Oracle 10 leapfrogs Oracle SQL Developer

Shayna Garlick Shayna Garlick Profile: Shayna Garlick

Which developer tool do you prefer: Toad, Oracle SQL Developer or PL/SQL Developer?

The last time we asked you to cast your vote for one of these three candidates, a clear winner did not emerge: some liked Toad because of its speed, some preferred SQL Developer because of its price and others didn’t see much difference between the three.

But users may now have many new reasons to choose Toad.

In what Quest VP Larry Humphries calls “one of Quest’s biggest and most exciting releases of Toad for Oracle in ten years,” Quest software announced that it expects to release Toad for Oracle 10 this October.  According to Quest’s press release, many of the features in the upcoming version were inspired by suggestions from users in the Toad community.

So, what can you expect in Toad for Oracle 10?

Quest has announced Toad enhancements in development, administration, platform and education. Some specific new features include editing enhancements, a schema ER diagram reporting window and greater manageability and automation abilities.

In his blog post “Sneak Peak at Toad v10,” Quest solution architect Jeff Smith takes an even closer look at three of the new features, namely full Unicode support, new data grids and the new ER diagrammer. Smith says one of the most noticeable changes for users will be the data grids, which has a new interface and the ability to auto-group by specific columns.

The good news is users don’t have to wait until this fall to get their hands on the new version. Quest is offering a Toad for Oracle beta program so users can get hands-on experience with the tool and offer feedback before it’s released.

If you’re an Oracle SQL Developer or PL/SQL Developer user, will these enhancements make you reconsider Toad? When you’re purchasing an editing and debugging tool, which is more important to you – price or functionality? And if you’ve already joined this beta program, let us know what you think of it so far?

July 21, 2009  6:06 PM

Can Oracle stay on a roll?

Ed Scannell Ed Scannell Profile: Ed Scannell

Oracle has weathered this 18-month long recession (and counting) better than many of its enterprise competitors. Well, at least so far.

The company’s quarterly financial reports over the past year have pleased Wall St. analysts, thanks largely to its perpetually steady maintenance revenues. Company officials have also pointed out over the past month or two pockets of growth in its broad product portfolio including its Exadata Database Machine and Fusion Middleware offerings. Licenses of its bread and butter database products however, have been flat to slightly down.

But most recently there are signs that maybe this wicked and seemingly unending recession is taking a toll on the folks in Redwood Shores.

In its financial statement last month for the quarter ending May 31, Oracle took a half step back. The company reported a net profit of $1.9 billion which is down 7% from the same quarter a year ago, while revenues tumbled 5.2% to $6.9 billion. But even this news wasn’t received so badly by Wall St. analysts who were expecting Oracle to lose even more.

In a note of caution however, Peter Goldmacher, an analyst with Cowen & Co., wrote last month he believed “Oracle’s standalone margin profile is unsustainable, and the pending acquisition of Sun is going to be more challenging than the current valuation implies.”

Then Oracle announced it was cutting up to 1,000 jobs in Europe. It isn’t the 5,000 layoffs that Microsoft announced a while back, or the 9,000 people IBM has let go this year, but still an indication the company was looking for ways to tighten its belt. Again this news is not so bad, but it is no reason to break out the champagne either.

But then two weeks ago the company announced it was halting construction of a mammoth $313 million data center in West Jordan, Utah.  The 200,000-sqaure-foot facility will store customers’ data and be dedicated to supporting the products and services of its on-demand division. Oracle officials recently said revenues from that division have been growing at an impressive 25% a year.

It’s logical to assume this building, which will serve as the model for other “green” facilities Oracle is planning, will be instrumental in helping Oracle launch whatever cloud computing strategies it has planned. And the company will pursue a cloud computing strategy, despite some ambiguity about that issue coming from Mr. Ellison from time to time. Hasan Rizvi, senior vice president, Oracle Fusion Middleware Products, made that clear speaking at the company’s Fusion Middleware 11g announcement earlier this month.  

Oracle didn’t offer any specific reasons for halting construction nor did it say when it would resume the project. What made some people nervous, particularly those in the state of Utah where the data center was projected to bring some $500 million in new state revenues over a 12-year period, was that Oracle used the word “postpone” in its only official statement.

On top of sales of new software licenses being down, it could be the fact Oracle will be shelling out $5.6 billion very soon for Sun, which could be weighing on the company’s decision to halt construction.

While faring better than its enterprise archrivals, Oracle will need the economy to improve significantly if corporate customers are going to spend more on new software licenses in the second half of this year. Maybe Fusion Middleware 11g and its associated tools, announced July 1, will help coax more dollars out of those tightly closed wallets.

July 15, 2009  1:48 PM

Will Oracle Sun(set) OpenSolaris? Most think not

Shayna Garlick Shayna Garlick Profile: Shayna Garlick

According to ComputerWorld’s Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, “OpenSolaris is on its way out” once the Oracle-Sun acquisition is complete.  Simply put: Oracle already has a Linux-based operating system, Unbreakable Linux,  and will have no use for another open source operating system.  Well, maybe too simply put.

What is Vaughan-Nichols basing his claims on?

He says that “Sun, Oracle and third-party sources are telling (him)” that OpenSolaris developers are worried about their futures after the acquisition, but he never gives any specific names or examples. While Vaughan-Nichols is entitled to his opinion, perhaps justifiably not many people are buying it.

So, what are some of the counter arguments?  Other bloggers and those commenting on Vaughan-Nichols’ blog have had little difficulty coming up with a steady stream of them including:

Another reason for Oracle to hold on to OpenSolaris is stack selling. Oracle has made it clear, as recently as July 1 at its Fusion Middleware announcement, that it intends to do more selling of integrated hardware-software stacks, all the way from the chips to the disk. You can’t sell a bunch of Sun servers without the operating system that fits Oracle’s databases and middleware like a glove. It would like an Oreo cookie without the filling.

Similar speculation occurred a couple of months ago as people wondered what Oracle would do with Sun’s open source database MySQL. Like, MySQL, OpenSolaris is free and open to the community.  Therefore, even if Oracle were to abandon it, OpenSolaris could live on, the question is what would that quality of life be?  Vaughan-Nichols had this to say:

“What I’m very much afraid I see happening is that Oracle is going to let OpenSolaris and other non-core to Oracle Sun projects like MySQL and VirtualBox  wither and die on the vine without corporate support.”

But would Oracle really do this to a system that already has such a strong customer base? Do you think there’s any chance that Vaughan-Nichols is right about the future of OpenSolaris? How successful do you think MySQL or OpenSolaris could still be without Oracle’s support? Would one be more successful than the other?

July 8, 2009  3:17 PM

Oracle’s enterprise iPod

Ed Scannell Ed Scannell Profile: Ed Scannell

In its most important middleware announcement of the last few years Oracle gave IT professionals a something of a preview of how it will approach enterprise computing. And happily, whether it was intended to or not, the company also put to rest those nagging questions about whether it would ever pursue a cloud strategy.

The shiny new Fusion Middleware 11g was described last week by Oracle President Charles Phillips as a “convergence layer” that will glue together an integrated stack of Oracle products.

That stack would be comprised of the upcoming Fusion applications, (the design and function of which will be based on Fusion Middleware 11g), the company’s core database, and the refurbished series of development tools optimized to work with Fusion Middleware 11g including JDeveloper.

If Oracle could deliver a truly seamless applications stack that, as he said, “worked like an enterprise version of the iPod,” it would lift a significant technical and financial weight from the shoulders of IT.

“Vendors throwing stuff over the wall that you (IT shops) have to assemble is architecture by improvisation. Improvisation is good for jazz musicians but not so good for enterprise architectures,” Phillips said.

Wouldn’t it be a relief for already overworked IT shops to not serve as their own systems integrators for a change. They could actually spend that new-found time developing more innovative applications that take advantage of a solid software foundation.

Phillips added, although without much detail, that Oracle could further build on this integrated stack strategy once it officially gets its hands on Sun’s hardware servers. It was his hope, Phillips said, that Redwood Shores could spearhead an industry-wide movement back to selling integrated stacks.

This would not be a novel approach of course, just one brought back from the dead. One of Oracle-Sun’s chief rivals, IBM, successfully pioneered the concept of selling integrated hardware-software stacks to corporate customers decades ago. But for Oracle to successfully pursue this back-to-the-future strategy itself, never mind convince the likes of IBM, SAP and others to follow them, it will take almost perfect technical execution and a nifty piece of marketing to get people excited about the idea.

Given the tough economic times and the aforementioned over burdened IT staffs, this is not impossible. We could see an era of Stack Wars emerge. All we need now to make this a reality is for IBM, Hewlett-Packard or even Dell to buy just one or two major enterprise vendors like SAP. And that’s not an impossibility over the short term either.

Another Oracle executive, Hasan Rizvi, senior vice president, Oracle Fusion Middleware Products, said rather clearly at last week’s announcements that Oracle will provide cloud and software-as-a-service-based solutions. Yes, you read that right. Oracle really is recognizing the market’s growing interest in these technologies.

“There is a lot of focus around SaaS and the cloud the last six months. Customers want to deliver their IT systems as services,” Rizvi said, in explaining some of the cloud capabilities of the new products. “A lot of customers want to do that internally and not necessarily through a public cloud.”

So pay no attention to the vague statements of that billionaire chairman behind the curtain. Cloud computing will be part and parcel of Oracle’s next generation strategies.

Best line at last week’s Fusion Middleware announcement had to go to Oracle President Charles Phillips. Coming on stage to kick off the announcement in Washington, D.C., fully aware he was not all that far from another President of African-American decent who dresses as nattily as he, Phillips said: “I know what you are thinking, but I am not him.”

July 1, 2009  2:02 PM

Is Larry getting a little SaaSy?

Shayna Garlick Shayna Garlick Profile: Shayna Garlick

The last time we looked at Oracle’s SaaS strategy, Oracle chairman Larry Ellison had largely rejected the idea of software-as-a-service, saying it wasn’t profitable enough. He said this, despite the fact that more than a few of his competitors have enthusiastically embraced the on-demand industry.

So has Ellison had a change of heart?

A year later, it looks that way. Oracle announced today SaaS for ISVs, a new pricing model that allows Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) to pay for its Oracle SaaS platform by the month rather than make an upfront investment.  This also allows ISVs to adjust their SaaS offerings to meet customer demand, according to Oracle.

Analyst China Martens calls this new licensing option part of the “continued gradual easing of Oracle into the SaaS arena,” according to the IDG’s Chris Kanaracus in this article.

Oracle has over 10,000 partners that are active ISVs in its partner program, said Judson Althoff, senior vice president, worldwide alliances and channels, in his video post on the Oracle site.  Althoff says that while Oracle has mostly serviced the “higher end of the SaaS market,” the new model will “allow us to reach a much broader base of ISVs, and better cater to you, the partner who wants to roll out a SaaS offering.”

Althoff also said the monthly cost structure will help the ISV “better manage cash flow” and “only pay for just the actual elements for the Oracle platform that (it) used in the previous month.”

Oracle has also begun promoting SaaS for ISVs on its SaaS Knowledge Zone and a new ISV and SaaS blog by Oracle’s Kevin O’Brien, Senior Director of ISV and SaaS Strategy for Oracle’s Worldwide Alliances and Channels organization.  According to an Oracle data sheet, the new pricing model will apply to the Oracle SaaS Platform from the Oracle Database, Oracle Fusion Middleware, Oracle Enterprise Manager and Oracle VM.

Oracle isn’t the only vendor to have made recent on-demand developments. SAP recently released its latest SaaS strategy, which includes on-demand applications for Business Suite customers that use a multi-tenant architecture rather than an isolated tenant model.

Where do you think Oracle stands in the SaaS market? Will this latest SaaS for ISVs offer help Oracle? Or, as some are saying, despite the new pricing model, is Oracle software just too expensive in the first place?

June 22, 2009  7:48 PM

Is Virtual Iron virtually gone?

Shayna Garlick Shayna Garlick Profile: Shayna Garlick

A few months ago when we examined whether Oracle could be a contender in the virtualization wars, experts said that the company faced an uphill battle if it continued to refuse offering support for third-party virtualization software.  They also noted that Oracle would most likely buy Virtual Iron to compliment its own Oracle VM.

It looks like they were right.

Just over a month after buying the virtualization software vendor Virtual Iron, Oracle has announced that it will be getting rid of the company’s products.  According to an article in The Register, Oracle said in a letter to Virtual Iron’s sales partners that it “will suspend development of existing Virtual Iron products and will suspend delivery of orders to new customers.”

While this may not come as a surprise to many, it’s interesting that Oracle has decided to forgo what keeping Virtual Iron could have brought to the table in terms of products for small and medium-sized companies.

Also interesting, as The Register‘s Carl Metz points out, is that Oracle would risk losing Virtual Iron customers and partners, who will be justifiably unhappy upon hearing this news.  Oracle stated that after the end of this month it will not allow partners to sell new licenses to anyone, even existing customers.

Do you think it’s unfair to Virtual Iron customers and irresponsible for Oracle to slash VI’s  products with such short notice? While Virtual Iron customers can move to Oracle’s new combined product, Oracle has yet to say when it will be arriving, or what the combined product will actually be.

And is this any indication of what Oracle will do with Sun’s virtualization products? With its acquisition of Sun, Oracle will get Sun’s entire virtualization portfolio namely Sun xVM.  Sun xVM, like Oracle (and Virtual Iron), is based on the Xen hypervisor, making it easier for Oracle to combine products.

It should be interesting to see how Oracle’s virtualization plans develop over the coming months, and if it will prove effective in competing against virtualization kingpin, VMware.

June 17, 2009  5:13 PM

How will Oracle do when the chips are down?

Ed Scannell Ed Scannell Profile: Ed Scannell

The good thing about Sun canceling development of its 16-core Rock processor means Oracle now has one less set of multi-core servers to fret over with its cores vs. processor licensing policy. The bad news is the new Oracle, hoping to compete against the likes of IBM and Hewlett-Packard from chips to business process software will come to battle with a few less bullets.

I am only half kidding, of course, about the good news part. For better or worse (worse many users say) Oracle doesn’t fret much over whether it should license servers by the processor core or by the box. It unflinchingly continues to license by the number of cores, which could prove an expensive proposition for some buyers.

The bad news I may not be kidding about so much. With Sun kicking its five-year old Rock project to the curb, Oracle can’t make the next leap in the game of performance leapfrog it plays with chip rivals IBM and Intel.

In fact, Sun has failed to leap a couple of times having canceled its UltraSparc-V chip project earlier this decade because it essentially ran out of development funds. The company rushed out its UltraSparc-IV chip as a stop-gap product that didn’t do much. And when Sun was skipping a leap, a couple of other times it was very slow to leap, being months even years late in delivering a new chip.

Sun officials have talked consistently the past few years about the Rock being a game changer. The chip was designed to achieve a much higher per-thread and floating point performance, along with greater Symmetrical Multi-Processing capabilities than its Niagra family of chips.

Rock, which was to anchor the company’s Supernova line of servers, was supposed to really shine when it came to handling high-end data facing workloads including database servers. Just guessing here, but I think a machine delivering great database performance would be important to Oracle.

With Rock out of the game Sun will continue to use Fujitsu processors, which will be fine, but hardly represents the game changer the company was hoping for. One positive aspect to all this is that Sun’s research and development costs just got significantly lower. This won’t make Larry Ellison unhappy as he tries to complete the $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun.

But once again Sun has opened the door wide open for a number of competitors to rush through, most notably IBM. With one less competitor at the high end, IBM figures to rip away more server market share from Sun over the short term. Some speculated over the last day or so that Oracle might start to emphasize the next gen Niagra III Sparc chips, as well as pushing Solaris on x64 servers fueled by Intel’s upcoming Nehalem EX servers.

Sun has been relying on chips from Fujitsu for its larger servers while it waited for the Rock development to be finished. Now it is likely to just continue using Fujitsu chips, which should lower research and development costs.

But what does the lack of a “game-changing” chip like Rock do to Oracle’s plans to sell vertically integrated hardware-software stacks (as has been rumored) ala its Exadata Database Machine? It could hurt its newly acquired hardware business for sure, but perhaps more importantly hold back its flagship database business at the high end in some key markets, along with other proprietary and open source software offerings.

We knew Oracle was buying some damaged goods with its acquisition of Sun, but I am not sure if Redwood Shores was assuming its chip business might be this damaged.

June 11, 2009  3:48 PM

Oracle should support the Open Database Alliance now

Ed Scannell Ed Scannell Profile: Ed Scannell

Ed Scannell

Oracle’s continued lack of public enthusiasm, let’s call it, about gaining possession over MySQL Server continues to puzzle me.

The folks at Redwood Shores certainly haven’t indicated they will abandon the popular open-source data base, but neither have they acknowledged what the strategic importance to its overall data base fortunes might be.

I know Oracle can’t offer up too many specifics about its plans for MySQL until its acquisition of Sun is complete (the latest speculation is that approval may not come now until at least September over some concerns expressed by the European Union). But it could do a better job of making a general statement or two about its potential value, which might go a long way towards making its customers using Oracle and MySQL databases side by side feel more assured.

The company shouldn’t wait too much longer to do that.

A couple of weeks ago, Monty Widenius, MySQL’s founder who left Sun before the Oracle deal, has formed an independent vendor-neutral consortium that will serve as a hub to create and maintain code and binaries, as well as offer training and technical support for MySQL.

The fledgling organization, called the Open Database Alliance, will supply a range of software and services for Widenius’ fork of the MySQL MariaDB version of the product. The group will not wait for Oracle’s endorsement or formal participation.

At the announcement of the Alliance Widenius expressed more than a little concern that MySQL’s development efforts could be set back years if Oracle either lets the product languish without regular updates, or lays off many of the product’s programmers at Sun once the deal is completed.

Widenius pledged to work closely with those MySQL developers at Sun, to prevent a significant forking of the code which would fracture an otherwise united development community. This, of course, could result in diluting the product’s competitive powers against Microsoft, or make it less attractive to Oracle shops as a departmental-level compliment to its higher-end databases.

Not just that. Some of Oracle’s database competitors could join the new consortium and make technical contributions to MySQL. It is hard to imagine that Oracle would be comfortable with that scenario having just paid over $7 billion for Sun.

Widenius also made it clear his new organization is quite open to any company or individuals joining in the group. Given there are only the two founding members who have joined – namely Monty Program Ab and Percona – new members are likely to have more than a little influence in the product’s direction.

I have already written about MySQL’s more obvious advantages to Oracle’s data base business: a strong lower-end compliment to Oracle’s proprietary line of data bases that could effectively compete against Microsoft; another source of maintenance revenues; and a way for Oracle to take a leadership position in the open source world and improve its credibility there.

No matter what Oracle’s longer range plans are for MySQL, the company would be wise to throw The Open Database Alliance a bone soon, letting it know it intends to work cooperatively. It would be good for not only MySQL users and developers, but for its own strategic good.

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