December 2, 2007

Oracle is mixing its paradigms

In the past, I’ve drawn a clear distinction between an IBM/Oracle data-centric view of applications and SAP’s long-standing process-centric view. And I pooh-poohed the appearance that IBM was fuzzing things up a bit.

But as it self-identifies ever more as an application vendor, Oracle has also claimed to be more process-centric. And given the size of Oracle’s applications commitment, in this case I think the change, while not absolute, is at least in part pretty real.

September 23, 2006

Scathing review of Oracle’s pre-Siebel BI products

Stephen Few offers a blistering review of Oracle Discoverer, its portal integration, and its UI in general. This fits well with what I said last November:

Obviously, Oracle has the potential to be a titan in analytics. But it doesn’t have its act at all together yet.

And so I agree with a couple of comments on Stephen’s post, to the effect of “Well, gee, no wonder that Siebel’s BI tools look like they’ll be the surviving technology.”

EDIT: Mark Rittman offers a lot of screenshots of Oracle’s Siebel BI Suite. If you look at other posts on his blog, you’ll see Discoverer as well.

April 6, 2006

Microsoft underscores its core paradigm

In a recent column called Three Views From the Top of the Software World (I generally don’t pick my titles, but that was as good as any), I opined that the big vendors had three fundamentally different paradigms from which they viewed enterprise software:

In the IBMOracle view, data — a.k.a. information — is king. IT’s job is to manage the data powerfully, reliably and (not always the top priority) cost-effectively. …

Microsoft’s vision, however, is quite different. It’s first and foremost about empowering people, at least to the extent that making them better corporate employees can be regarded as empowerment. …

While IBMOracle talks about information and Microsoft talks about people, SAP talks about business processes. …

Shortly after I wrote that, Microsoft came out with a sterling example of my claim. They told a story about composite apps. At SAP, composite apps are a business process story. At Oracle, they’re probably a business process story too. But at Microsoft? Read for yourself, in Microsoft’s own words:

The core vision behind what we are doing is Roles Based Productivity. To deliver on this vision, you have to start with “People” and really connect them up to their “work” (i.e. process). In the real world most people’s work is split across multiple applications and the “seams” show. Web Services is the foundational infrastructure that helps us get rid of the “seams”.

I don’t want to suggest I see something wrong with this. All three views are valid, and none of the vendors cited is too extreme (any more) about neglecting the other viewpoints. Still, I think this isn’t just semantics, but rather a fundamental difference in worldviews.

February 16, 2006

Whatever Oracle is up to, it should work moderately well

Speculation is rampant as to Oracle’s exact strategic goals in acquiring Innobase and Sleepycat, with more open source vendors rumored to be coming soon. Rather than try to add some nuances directly to the low-end/open-source/brand-extension/embrace-and-extend strategic discussion, I’d like to step back and say one thing:

Multi-DBMS product strategies work moderately well.

Admittedly, in the history of software there only have been a limited number of DBMS products that be regarded as huge successes, and only in one case has more than one of them belonged to the same company. But even so, history is fairly encouraging toward whatever it is that Oracle is trying to do.

IBM. IBM has had two hugely successful DBMS product lines – IMS and DB2. Since IMS and DL/1 were separate products, and there are also two significantly different versions of DB2, it’s even fair to say that IBM has had four different rather successful DBMS. And that’s not even counting acquisitions.

Informix. Shortly before it imploded, Informix got a little carried away with a multi-product strategy. It didn’t help that by claiming all the products were on a single code line, they were saying something that A. Wasn’t true and B. Nobody would have cared about if it were true. Still, the Progress-like Informix/SE was a fundamentally different product from Informix’s Oracle-competitive high-end products, and both were viable businesses. Unfortunately for Informix, when it moved successfully into the high end it defocused on the low end, and went from being a powerful #2 in the VAR market to a real also-ran.

Sybase. Sybase was once a leader with what is now called Adaptive Server Enterprise, and continues to muddle through as nontrivial also-ran. Meanwhile, Adaptive Server Anywhere is the leader in its niche. Like Informix, however, Sybase walked away from what had been a strength, which is the laptop/desktop/office OEM market, really focusing on the pervasive computing/nontraditional computer market at the expense of what was once a strong business position (e.g., as the initial big platform for Siebel’s original Sales Force Automation products).

Oracle itself. The acquisition of RDB from Digital was a major success for Oracle, in that the technology really helped the main Oracle product while the legacy RDB business tootled along to pay for itself. I think the smaller TimesTen will be a big success as well.

I think Software AG is doing OK with a multi-DBMS strategy too, but I’m a bit foggy on the details. Progress has a few very impressive references and not much else from its recent DBMS-like product acquisitions, but I’m cautiously optimistic there. That leaves Microsoft pretty much as the only single-DBMS vendor around, and I’m sure there are folks in Redmond who, because of Analysis Services or Access or something, would even dispute that.

If Oracle pursues some kind of parallel product line open source DBMS strategy, there’s every reason to think they can pull it with only moderate conflict and anti-synergy. At least, that’s what industry history seems to suggest.

And I have some thoughts as to why this is true. In no particular order, they are:

1. Developing DBMS is a hard skill – and one that’s transferable from project to project.
2. The same goes for a grab-bag of specific experience, tricks, algorithms, and so on.
3. Positioning of multiple DBMS products need not be in serious conflict. (Actually, companies do tend to screw that up a lot, which is why almost all the successes I outlined above are only partial. Maybe I’d better save a detailed discussion of that point for future postings.)

February 16, 2006

MySQL vs. the big guys

Marten Mickos, CEO of MySQL, is a quotable man this week. Oracle saw to that by acquiring Sleepycat, on the heels of its prior acquisition of Innobase. Basically, his message is rah-rah open source, he really truly can compete with Oracle on functionality, but of course as a practical matter Oracle probably is locking in its application customers to its DBMS, including customers from the Siebel and Peoplesoft acquisitions. That makes sense. It’s consistent with what I’ve been hearing from SAP. I now think that the quotes elsewhere suggesting he wasn’t serious about powering ERP software at all were misunderstandings. He just recognizes that the ERP software MySQL will power will largely be SAP’s.

As I’ve previously noted, the expectation is that MySQL will wind up getting share in SAP’s customer base. At least, the expectation is that their technology will be good enough to do so. The business reasons for SAP to favor this outcome are of course pretty obvious. Almost the only remaining question is whether SAP will back MySQL with great force, or whether it will divide its love between MySQL and its own inhouse DBMS product MaxDB.

November 21, 2005

Oracle’s perennial confusion about analytic technology

Oracle is badly confused about analytic technology, and indeed long has been. It would be tough for me to coherently explain why without being, well, confusing. So I’ll just list a series of data points, which hopefully should suffice to illustrate the point.

That’s even before getting to Oracle’s problems in data warehousing itself, where it can’t beat Teradata and DB2/mainframe at the very high end, and low-cost options like Netezza are a looming threat as well.

What’s particularly ironic is that some of Oracle’s core marketing pitches have a lot to do with analytics. The whole integrated stack story? Doesn’t make much sense when you’re only talking OLTP; only with analytics in the picture is it coherent. The whole scalability story? A few huge websites and the like aside, that’s mainly about data warehousing now.

Obviously, Oracle has the potential to be a titan in analytics. But it doesn’t have its act at all together yet.

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