Oracle Enters Web 2.0 Fray

UPDATED: SAN FRANCISCO — Oracle  wants a cut of the Web 2.0 action.

The software maker launched Oracle WebCenter Suite, a new feather in its Fusion Middleware cap that uses Web 2.0 software services to help corporate employees better work together.

It also helps developers rise above proprietary systems and legacy applications to build applications that can truly interact with each other, a fundamental yet often under-delivered premise of anytime, anywhere computing over the Web.

“First, it’s a complete set of standards-based middleware, which gives you all the capability you need to use a service-oriented architecture,” said Thomas Kurian, senior vice president with Oracle during a keynote at its OpenWorld conference here.

Second, it’s integrated, he said of the suite. “So all the pieces are engineered to work together,” such as identity management on a single console to manage all user profiles, and permissions centrally.

Third, and maybe most important, he added, is that it’s standards-based. “It’s hot pluggable, meaning you can use it alongside existing investments in middleware from other vendors,” such as the latest releases of IBM DB2, NCR Teradata, and Microsoft SQL Server and SAP Business Information Warehouse.

The release comes a day after Oracle said it planned to fortify its SOA  products, database software and acquire MetaSolv.

Software vendors such as Oracle, IBM , Sun Microsystems  and Microsoft  are increasingly seeing the value of shifting their traditional portal and applications offerings to an integrated platform to reflect the trickle down of Web 2.0 technologies to the enterprise.

And to let end-users’ power trickle up. “We want to set up business users to get information without having to wait on the IT department,” Kurian said.

A solution to the siloed applications that aren’t aware of each other and don’t share content, WebCenter provides a central location that lets users create composite applications, such as enterprise mashups, and leverage wikis, Voice over IP (VoIP) and RSS feeds from their desktops and mobile devices.

The developer environment in the Fusion platform is geared for the entire symphony of processes that go into building Web-based applications within an SOA, including data integration, dashboards, reporting, alerts and workflows.

Take the self-service dashboards, he explained. An end-user can use the dashboard in order to format and publish a report on his or her own. This brings the power of business intelligence to business users, Kurian said.

It also allows you to model key performance indicators, and based on date or time conditions, for example, “deliver information to your system, e-mail or pager, allowing you to become more adaptive.”

Plus, Oracle wanted to make it easy for business users to interact with their customers or clients with different tools. Translation: users can use the middleware to access information and enterprise applications from a Microsoft Office desktop environment.

Oracle hopes WebCenter becomes the intersection for people, processes and information in the workplace, improving productivity at a time when workers often have to jump back and forth between disparate applications. This can be disruptive to the workflow.

With WebCenter Suite, Oracle figures to be at the forefront of this change, which Gartner analysts discussed in detail at the research firm’s IT symposium earlier this month.

The WebCenter Framework includes Java Server Faces (JSF) and Oracle ADF that enables programmers to plant AJAX components, portlets and content into their JSF applications; it will interoperate with standard portals.

Wrapped within what Oracle calls its Service Oriented Development platform, the WebCenter Framework gives developers a visual, declarative way to build within a Java environment, which can be deployed on a J2EE server (modeled using Enterprise Java Beans ).

“This gives you a great way to build and deploy [those applications] in a Java environment, but also working with other systems, such as Siebel, and even legacy mainframe applications, Kurian said.

Not only that, the middleware can integrate with Microsoft’s .NET  environment, which is what customer is doing with its Fusion deployments.

WebCenter Services offer embeddable Web 2.0 content, collaboration and communication components, including Oracle Content Database, Oracle Secure Enterprise Search, SIP-based VoIP and Instant Messaging Presence Server, discussion forum and a wiki service.

WebCenter Studio meanwhile exposes the WebCenter Framework and WebCenter Services to programmers inside Oracle JDeveloper. WebCenter Anywhere lets users connect and work from familiar mobile devices and desktop tools, such as Microsoft Office and Exchange.

WebCenter Composer is a browser-based environment for composing and customizing the application user interfaces, business rules and policies, user profiles and preferences and business processes.

Finally, WebCenter Spaces is a configurable work environment that enables individuals and groups to better work together.

WebCenter Suite, which will also become the default user environment for Oracle Fusion Applications, will be licensed as an option on top of Oracle Application Server Enterprise Edition for $50,000 per CPU.

Available in 2006, WebCenter Suite 10g R3 will include the WebCenter Framework, WebCenter Services and the Oracle WebCenter Studio, providing customers SIP-based instant messaging, online presence, threaded discussion and wiki services, as well as Oracle Secure Enterprise Search and a limited-use license of Oracle Content Database.

WebCenter Composer and WebCenter Spaces are scheduled to be available in a future release.

Kurian also announced a spiffed-up version of the company’s business intelligence software with Oracle Business Intelligence Suite Enterprise Edition 10g Release 3.

The software grabs intelligence from existing applications and data sources and shuttles it across the enterprise to improve business processes.

Release 3 has been integrated with Oracle BI Publisher, Oracle BPEL Process Manager, Oracle Portal, Oracle Database 10g OLAP and Oracle Identity Management.

Oracle Business Intelligence Suite Enterprise Edition 10g Release 3 will be generally available in the next 12 months.

Finally, Oracle expanded its increasingly comfortable relationship with rival IBM; the two will sell and market Oracle applications and Linux software on IBM’s System z mainframes.

The strategy makes sense, as standards-based computing spreads through the IT world and customers unlock themselves from proprietary systems.

With an eye on competition, Kurian pointed out that Oracle entered the middleware market in 2001 with the launch of Fusion.

“It’s grown to over a billion dollars in just five years,” with over 31,000 customers around the globe deploying it.

For Kurian and Oracle, the latest release represents the company’s evolution away from proprietary systems, and its bid to build on its legacy systems to help customers build a more dynamic form of computing.

You might call it Kurian’s call for Oracle’s entry into the Web 2.0 fray. “The Internet continues to transform the architecture of enterprise applications. Fusion Middleware gives you the best middleware suite in the industry to exploit that transformation.”

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