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Oracle to Draw Curtain on Project Mozart

Amid a slew of improvements to its bread-and-butter database and application server software suites, Oracle next week plans to launch the second version of its collaboration software, as well as provide a preview of its forthcoming enterprise management framework, codenamed Project Mozart.

A confident oracle

Rene Bonvanie, vice president of Oracle9i product marketing, told internetnews.com that, for the first time ever, Oracle will describe in detail its next-generation Enterprise Manager framework, known as Project Mozart. The company will unfurl its announcements during the OracleWorld 2002 Conference in San Francisco, Nov. 10-14.

"Mozart is about the ability to capture every asset in your infrastructure," Bonvanie said. "It will help a DBA understand what is there to help them be more proactive about database management."

In its current incarnation, Oracle Enterprise Manager offers such features as real-time monitoring, distributed database administration, collection, and analysis of performance and availability data, as well as automated tuning and integrated reporting capabilities. Bonvanie said Mozart will feature all that and more, including a tool that renders information about Web pages and transactions that affect the end-user. He also said Mozart will ensure the proper correct patches, software versions are present in the Oracle stack.

This is important, Bonvanie said, because "preventing a database problem is a lot cheaper than fixing one."

Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle will unveil the second version of its Collaboration Suite, which currently lets companies store and search for e-mails, voice mail, appointments, documents and PowerPoint presentations on a single database.

It is this category where Oracle is perhaps being most aggressive, gunning for the likes of Microsoft and IBM's Lotus/Domino platforms, with its revamped suite. Bonvanie said the second version will feature "real-time" tools, such as instant messaging capabilities.

Interestingly, Bonvanie said it isn't Oracle's intent to replace Microsoft Outlook, which he said would be virtually impossible given its ubiquity in the market. But, he said, he does see where Oracle can gain traction with its collaboration tools, particularly because of the cheaper price point: its suite is currently a third of the price of Microsoft Exchange. Oracle's Collaboration Suite works through Microsoft Outlook, any Web browser, voice, wireless devices and fax.

Is Oracle daunted by the task of gunning for the Redmond, Wash. software giant? In a word, no.

"We've faced bigger challenges," Bonvanie said. "Microsoft enjoyed a stable market for years with Exchange. I remember three years ago when [Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect] Bill Gates said Microsoft would build a 'megaserver' to manage everything. It's three years later, and they still have Exchange. We can out-innovate them and out-price them."

Bonvanie said Oracle plans to be there to scoop up customers who may fall off the Microsoft bandwagon after they encounter Microsoft's new pricing policy, which pushes businesses toward automatic software upgrades.

Specifically, Bonvanie attacked Microsoft's lack of efficiency when it comes to e-mail servers.

The software giant responds

Microsoft had this to say about the collaboration software news from Oracle:

"Oracle's announcement reflects the fact that Microsoft is the market leader in the messaging and collaboration industry. In fact, Mr. [Larry] Ellison acknowledged this directly, saying that he believes the company's main competitor in collaboration is Microsoft, not IBM. Microsoft has been in the market for over 6 years. During that time, we've made significant investments along with the Outlook and Windows teams to deliver a proven, enterprise-ready end-to-end communication solution.

In terms of this new product offering, this is not Oracle's first or even second foray into the messaging and collaboration space. Their initial offering, Oracle InterOffice, was discontinued because, in Oracle's own words (see here), "Interoffice was not a successful product." Their more recent attempt with Oracle 9iAS Email has been widely panned by industry analysts as not being an offer that provides anywhere near enough value to inspire customers to move to Oracle's product from the rich, robust messaging and collaboration infrastructure they have invested in from Microsoft. In fact, the early reaction of the analyst community to Oracle's most recent announcement is not overwhelmingly positive, either. The common theme seems to be that Oracle is making another attempt to enter this market to shore up their flagging database business, that it's not likely to be a huge revenue generator for them.

More fundamentally, though, we think the approach that Oracle is taking to this space is an approach which is at least one thought generation behind Microsoft. We have long since realized that the way to provide the value that our customers ask us for is to deliver a complete solution based on a set of robust, well integrated server infrastructure which our customers and our community of partners can leverage to build high impact business solutions, for themselves, as well as for their customers, partners, and suppliers.

Even IBM, with the announcement of their "NextGen" strategy for collaboration has realized that the "Swiss Army Knife" approach to collaboration is an idea whose time has passed. Oracle is entering this market with an approach that perhaps made sense a decade ago.

As far as pricing, Oracle makes an apples to oranges comparison when it bases its licensing analysis on their collab suite vs. the Core CAL. The Core CAL provides significantly more value including Windows Server services (e.g., file/print, Active Directory, and Windows Media) and SharePoint Portal Server (e.g., document management, cross-enterprise search, and portal development). In addition, some of the technology that makes up the core of Microsoft's collaboration offering is free.

When specifically comparing pricing for Exchange vs. OCS, Exchange is approximately the same cost (<$500K) over a 3 year period and could be lower depending on the exact licensing program selected. This is a much closer comparison than OCS vs. the Core CAL since the functionality proposed for OCS is more comparable with that provided by Exchange 2000.

Analysts and keynote speakers

Gartner Dataquest Vice President Joanne Correia said she expects Oracle to discuss enhancements and strategies going forward with the second version of Oracle 9iAS, the company's application server suite.

Correia said she expects Oracle to discuss their plans to open up a bit and sport more interoperability among competitors for Web services and XML messaging, which falls under its JDeveloper platform.

"I think they'll discuss their Web services plans, as well as their mobile and wireless strategies for their portal technologies," Correia told internetnews.com. "I also expect them to talk about how they plan to beef up security and integration -- integration will be a major issue. They are trying to compete with IBM and BEA in this area."

"At the end of the day, Oracle's focus is to integrate data," Correia said. "Integration becomes more key as the economy consolidates. Customers want an application server that is built to manage what's new, as well as what is old -- they want to add value to what exists, not replace what isn't broken."

Oracle will also divulge advances in its grid computing capability, which allows businesses to harness a number of servers to run a large database, so servers can share work. The Oracle database is built on the grid technology, with Linux as the primary choice for its operating system.

Bonvanie said Oracle expects roughly 20,000 attendees for the seventh OracleWorld conference. Keynote speakers will include Red Hat President and CEO, Matthew Szulik, Carly Fiorina, chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, and Michael Dell, chief executive of Dell Computer, who is making his first keynote at OracleWorld. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison will deliver his keynote via satellite from New Zealand.

Red Hat, which has enjoyed a long partnership with Oracle, will also be on hand to announce that it has deepened its reltionship with Oracle, although neither Bonvanie nor a Red Hat spokesperson would comment further on specifics.

However, Red Hat said in a public statement that Oracle users will hear about Red Hat's relationship with Oracle and how the two companies work together to form "Unbreakable Linux" and to provide business infrastructure to enterprise customers.