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Oracle Show Girds for Grid

Oracle has big plans for its upcoming OracleWorld San Francisco 2003 event. The software company will unveil new versions of its database and application servers with a newer focus: grid computing .

Bob Shimp, vice president of Oracle database marketing, said the company will have a laser-like focus on grid computing for products it is calling Oracle Database 10g and Oracle Application Server 10g. Oracle 10g database will make it possible for a business create a single repository of computing power by linking several servers together.

The new approach is geared to help customers save the time they'd normally spend monitoring the complex systems and the costs associated with having more machines. Oracle has been reticent to reveal too many specifics, but the company has said it will unveil upgrades to its Enterprise Manager database management software, which will let a database administrator prepare shifts in server capacity.

The 10g release will also incorporate further enhancements including XML, Web services, clustering and administration to help boost the performance of, in one major example, financial applications.

The play is the Redwood Shores, Calif. outfit's bid to provide utility-like services, adding to the explosion of strategies in computing-on-demand from the likes of such companies as IBM , HP , Sun Microsystems , Veritas and Computer Associates . It will also help them better compete with database rivals IBM and Microsoft , as well as with IBM and BEA in the application server space.

However, Oracle's grid computing foray resembles competitors' technologies only on the surface, according to one analyst. IDC's Carl Olofson would not divulge specifics of the new products, but told internetnews.com the way Oracle is using the term grid to describe its new process is, at heart, an extension of its vaunted Real Application Cluster (RAC).

RAC is parallel database clustering technology the vendor offers with its high-end Oracle9i Enterprise Edition database. It is an "active-active" cluster with shared storage. With it, multiple servers can work in parallel on the same set of data.

The use of the grid term has confused rivals. An IBM spokesperson, for one, told internetnews.com it looks as though Oracle is rebranding RAC.

"Oracle is making a lot of noise about grid with 10g, but the way Oracle defines grid seems very different from IBM's definition," the spokesperson said. "From what I can tell they are more or less rebranding RAC as 10g...meaning you still have to move everything into an Oracle database."

This is markedly different from the approach of IBM's comparable database line, DB2, which provides a virtual view of information stored anywhere on a computing grid and doesn't require a database cluster to function in a grid environment.

Olofson said how he could see how competitors would feel that way, and noted that "IBM probably feels as though Oracle has hijacked the 'grid' term because it's hot." But he said Oracle shouldn't be put down so quickly because it has made some significant strides from a year ago.

Olofson said Oracle has extended RAC technology to something of a "closed grid" system where the servers are controlled by Oracle, which will allocate services within that environment as needed. "There have been serious improvements," Olofson promised. "They have done some clever things."

Conversely, vendors such as Sun Microsystems and Unisys promote a method called an "open grid" structure under the aegis of the IBM and Globus OGFC. Called the Open Grid Services Architecture (OGSA), the strategy defines the standard interfaces and behaviors of a Grid service built on a Web services foundation.

With this method, users may take a service they desire to be provisioned for and basically engage in a massively redundant distribution of service, where there is an instance of service on every system, thus making it "open." When the application is ready to be run, the system scans for the optimal service on which to run it.

As with Oracle's grid strategy, the open system is also primed for financial applications, or even for calculating simple things such as currency conversion rates. Olofson stressed that system intermediators are not looking for the best match in terms of service, but what system is most highly available for the fastest results.

While Oracle's strategy is certainly a change of pace from the open system, Olofson said the 10g will certainly provide a system that is more self-managing, with "fewer knobs to twist and turn." This, too, mirrors some of the characteristics of the utility computing products being touted by competitors.

"It's more sophisticated," Olofson said of the Oracle enhancements. "It requires less expertise on the part of the administrator."

Oracle refused to pin down release dates for finished 10g products, which are in beta testing with customers, but it is customary for these to take several months to a year, so 10g products may make their way to the public in 2004.

As for the OracleWorld show, scheduled from Sept. 7-11, Oracle has again lined up a number of superstar keynote speakers staggered amongst sessions hosted by its own executives. Oracle Executive Vice President Charles Phillips will kick the festivities off Monday and will be followed by Dell Chief Michael Dell.

The keynote spotlight will perhaps shine brightest Tuesday, when Sun Microsystems skipper Scott McNealy will lead off, followed by Intel Chief Craig Barrett and then Oracle's Larry Ellison, who will officially unveil 10G to the public.

Wednesday is entirely devoted to Oracle's brand of grid computing, with Chuck Rozwat, Executive Vice President, Database Server Technologies, Oracle spearheading the "Journey to the Center of the Grid" session and Ken Jacobs, Vice President, Product Strategy, Dr. DBA, Oracle hosting the "Mastering the Grid" session.

HP CEO Carly Fiorina will cap the keynote sessions Thursday. For a more complete itinerary, please go here.