Oracle Further Orchestrates Its SOA Forays Part Two: Strategy

Database Strategy

In light of Oracle Corporation's (NASDAQ: ORCL) recent acquisition of PeopleSoft and its growing appetite for the competition, its easy to see how one might underestimate Oracle's internally-developed, product strategy. However, this California-based (US) company has heeded the calls of its customers and the market by beginning a product strategy that focuses on open and flexible business processes. Ease of integration, the consolidation of databases, data models, and servers remains fundamental behind Oracle's product developments. The following is an overview of how Oracle has developed its vision of a collaborative e-business solution, and its database, application server, and e-business strategies.

Back in 1999, Oracle began its first serious attempt towards Web-based functionality (see Oracle8i Release 2—Ready to Storm the Web and Oracle Applications—An Internet-Reinvented Feisty Challenger). What is interesting is how Oracle defined its functionality set for its products. Namely, Oracle 8i ("i" standing for Internet) extended Oracle's technology in the areas of data management, transaction processing, and data warehousing. Built directly within the database, Internet-based features such as Java server, an Internet file system (IFS), Internet directory services, and Internet security allowed companies to build Internet-based applications while blurring the definition of what a "database" traditionally means and represents.

Oracle continued to extend its database functionality with this same thread through the introduction of Oracle 9i in mid 2000. It introduced real application clusters (RAC), which enabled multiple copies of the Oracle 9i database across multiple servers. It acted as a single database in a cluster resulting in considerable performance improvement. The database software transparently adapts when customers add computers to the cluster, thus significantly improving application scalability and availability without forcing the customer to modify the applications. In addition to Oracle9i's RAC trait, other new key features of the product included improved database availability, functionality, enhanced security capabilities, and a more complete and integrated infrastructure for building business intelligence (BI) or analytical applications, with built-in capabilities for data warehousing, online analytic processing (OLAP), extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL), and data mining.

Now Oracle has created what is likely the most complete integration solution available. In fiscal 2004, the vendor released a new version of its technology platform software, dubbed collectively Oracle 10g. The software provides a platform for developing and deploying applications on the Internet and on corporate intranets, and it comprised of database management software, application server software, and collaboration software, including Oracle Collaboration Suite. Oracle Collaboration Suite is a relatively recent integrated suite that manages e-mail and voice-mail messages, facsimiles, calendaring, file sharing, search, and workflow, whereby users access all their communications content via desktop applications, the Internet, personal digital assistants (PDA) or mobile phones. In addition to these, development tools allow users to create, retrieve, and modify the various types of data stored in a computer system.

A key component of its Oracle 10g platform is Oracle Database, which enables the storage, manipulation, and retrieval of relational, object-relational, multidimensional and other types of data. It can run applications across multiple computers clustered together, with a very high degree of scalability and reliability. Indeed, Oracle has always been known for its robust database solutions, and less known for its business applications. The highly acclaimed features of Oracle database include improved database availability, functionality, enhanced security capabilities, and an integrated infrastructure for building BI applications. There are also extensive XML capabilities with Oracle Database 10g ("g" standing for grid). It leverages existing relational or object-based data, making it available as XML.

Oracle Database 10g also uses RAC, which acts as a single database. Data does not need to be separated on multiple computers, since customers can simply add computers to the cluster. Subsequently customers can achieve significant cost savings by scaling up and eliminating fail-over servers, and by using lower-cost hardware as the basis of the cluster, instead of larger, more expensive computers. Oracle Database 10g also contains self-diagnosing and self-tuning features, as well as features that facilitate the ability to build, deploy, and manage Internet applications at lower costs. It offers administration and virtual storage management capabilities, ensures data integrity through the Data Guard and Flashback capabilities, and offers a number of application development features that should speed up the design, development, deployment, and maintenance of database-centric applications. The latest release also elevates security, manageability, and availability, not only for traditional OLTP, but rather for increasingly important data warehousing and related analytics requirements.

Finally, the Oracle Database provides a high-performance, native XML storage and retrieval technology through Oracle XML DB. It fully absorbs the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) XML data model into the Oracle Database, and provides new standard access methods for navigating and querying XML. With Oracle XML DB, users get all the advantages of relational database technology plus the advantages of XML. Additionally, XML plays a major role within the Oracle Data Provider for .NET product.

This is Part Two of a six-part note.

Part One contained the event summary and began the market impact.

Part Three will discuss strategy shifts.

Part Four covers SOA and Web services.

Part Five analyzes the Collaxa Acquisition.

Part Six will discuss weaknesses and make user recommendations.

Application Server Strategy

Aimed at the mid-tier of Oracle's stack, Oracle Application Server 10g has become one of the key pillars of the Oracle platform, where Oracle competes fiercely with the likes of BEA, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, Tibco, and SAP (see SAP Weaves Microsoft .NET and IBM WebSphere into Its ESA Tapestry). Mid 2000 saw the introduction of Oracle Internet Application Server, which was billed as "an open software platform for developing, deploying, and managing distributed Internet software application programs". Further refining and defining the functionality, Oracle released Oracle 9i Application Server late in 2000, which included the support for J2EE, XML, and Java Database Connectivity (JDBC), as well as caching technology. Yet, the product went considerably beyond that, by including the components of personalization, and portals for customers, employees, and partners (assembled using portlets, which are reusable interface components that provide access to Web-based resources such as applications, BI reports, syndicated content feeds, hosted software services or other resources), and wireless (including voice) access to Oracle applications. It facilities notifications, alerts, and escalations, a simple e-mail handling package and unified messaging that provided multichannel support, such as phone, web, fax, and e-mail.

The most recent incarnation, Oracle Application Server 10g, is a consolidated software platform based on industry standards, which helps developers build and deploy Web services, Web sites, portals, and web-based applications. It thereby allows organizations of all sizes to be more responsive to changing business requirements. It too supports a range of development languages and tools, including the latest J2EE-compliant technologies, which represents a platform-independent, Java-centric environment originally developed by Sun for developing, building, and deploying Web-based enterprise applications on-line. (See Understand J2EE and .NET Environments Before You Choose. The increasing momentum around web services has been gradually decreasing the importance of this debate, so that eventually we may be talking about "J2EE and .NET" as opposed to "J2EE versus .NET".)

Also designed for grid computing, Oracle Application Server 10g continues to incorporate clustering and high-speed caching technology, which significantly increases application reliability, performance, security, and scalability. Additionally, it features built-in enterprise portal software, BI, rapid application development, application and business integration, wireless capabilities, Web services, and other capabilities—all in one package. The product comes with an integrated set of BI software including Oracle Discoverer (an intuitive web-based ad hoc query, reporting and analysis tool for end users) and Oracle Reports (an enterprise-reporting tool for the production of higher quality reports). The new Identity Management option for Oracle Application Server 10g Standard Edition or available standalone makes it easier for companies to manage multiple identities and access privileges, which helps to safeguard information, critical systems, and applications against unauthorized access.

Development Tools Strategy

To complement the Oracle Database and Oracle Application Server offering, Oracle Developer Suite is an integrated suite of development tools designed to facilitate rapid development of Internet database applications and Web services, which contains application development and BI tools and is built on Internet standards such as Java, J2EE, XML, and HTML. It includes Oracle JDeveloper, a Java development environment for modeling, building, debugging and testing enterprise-level J2EE applications and Web services. Oracle JDeveloper is also available standalone. Meanwhile, Oracle Application Development Framework (Oracle ADF) simplifies J2EE development by minimizing the need to write code that implements design patterns and application's infrastructure. Oracle ADF focuses also on the development experience with a visual and declarative approach to J2EE development.

In addition, the suite contains Oracle Designer, a complete toolset to model, generate, and capture the requirements and design of enterprise database applications, and Oracle Forms Developer, a PL/SQL-based development environment for building enterprise class, database-centric Internet applications. Oracle Developer Suite also includes Oracle Warehouse Builder to consolidate fragmented data and metadata (machine understandable "data about data" information for the web) pulled from packaged applications, custom applications and legacy applications (see Oracle Warehouse Builder: Better Late than Never?). It enables developers to graphically design the multidimensional database schema and to automatically generate and load the data warehouse.

Integration Tools Strategy

With the Oracle Applications Server 10g release, Oracle has added several new products to its integration offering, while many more are planned. In addition to Oracle BPEL Process Manager and Oracle Integration BAM, also worth mentioning is Oracle Integration Interconnect, which is Oracle's enterprise service bus (ESB). It provides a framework to integrate heterogeneous environments including enterprise applications, legacy systems, and databases. Generally speaking, an ESB, also referred to as a message broker, is an open standards-based distributed synchronous or asynchronous messaging middleware. It should provide secure interoperability between enterprise applications via XML, Web services interfaces, and standardized rules-based routing of documents. In practice, this means that data files are passed to and from their destinations based on pre-established guidelines that are common to all parties sharing the information to ensure that the data maintains its integrity as it is routed. The multilingual and multiplatform design of an ESB should allow enterprises to process data between applications from various sources. Two common distributed computing architectures used by ESBs are naturally J2EE and .NET.

ESB is an extension of traditional middleware, whereby it adds several key functions:

  • Transformation—the ability to transform XML documents from one data format into another so that the receiving party can interface with the data in an application format that is different from the one in which it is sent;

  • Portability—the ability to share data between different computer systems and operating environments;

  • load balancing and clustering—the ability to distribute processing among several devices so that no single device becomes overloaded; and

  • failover—the ability to transfer messaging functions to another server if one should fail during the data exchange.

Further, Oracle Integration B2B (Business to Business) provides functionality for companies to interact with their trading partners. The base product provides Trading Partner Management, the ability to develop custom protocols and to support different document types, with a built-in support for UCCNet and Applicability Statement 2 (AS2), the Internet-based electronic data interchange (EDI) protocol. Support for common industry protocols, such as RosettaNet, traditional EDI (the X12 and EDIFact standards) are available through separately sold B2B adapters.

Last but not least, Oracle offers a number of integration adapters for packaged applications like SAP or Siebel, and adapters for legacy systems such as mainframe-based Customer Information Control System (CICS) and IMS. These adapters are sold separately and can be used with Oracle Container for J2EE (OC4J), Oracle Portal and the above Oracle integration components.

This concludes Part Two of a six-part note.

Part One contained the event summary and began the market impact.

Part Three will discuss strategy shifts.

Part Four covers SOA and Web services.

Part Five analyzes the Collaxa acquisition.

Part Six will discuss weaknesses and make user recommendations.

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