Oracle's Server Guru Reflects on the Market

Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif., is on the forefront of what seems to be a serious infotech trend: the Internet server.

Part of Oracle's prescience rests on its server experience; two-thirds of Oracle's license revenues come from that market.

WT staff writer Shannon Henry recently spoke with Gerald Held, senior vice president of the server technologies division of Oracle, about the market and his company's role.

WT: How has the Internet changed the server market?

Held: It's the next generation of client-server computing. Over the last decade client-server has been very successful in creating a more approachable, usable system.

What hasn't been successful is the anticipated cost reductions that were going to come along with it. Client-server computing isn't as cheap as people thought it was going to be.

The reality is that the client in client-server has become a fat client, an overweight client. And if you look at the cost of a typical desktop today in an enterprise, it's ranging in the $5,000 to $8,000 per year, per desktop. That includes the cost of acquisition, cost of maintenance, customer support. It's very expensive. For what it does, it has not proven to be the right mix of client and server.

What you're witnessing with the Internet now is part of a move to the next generation client server, which is going to be a little more server dominated with clients going on a weight-reduction program.

That will happen by bringing some of the administrative functions back into the network.

The Internet and Web servers are components of that. It allows for browser- based applications to download not only data but applications.

What this is going to demand is more powerful servers. Servers that can serve up not only relational data but multimedia data, doing it in a way that is compatible with new standards.

WT: What's the difference among all the Internet servers on the market today?

Held: Over the last year we've introduced our universal server, which is the first true next-generation management system. Internet servers are undergoing rapid change. And they're getting more capabilities.

Last year we introduced the concept of don't store all of this and create this morass of information that really isn't being managed.

What you want to do is go deep into the database which we spent two decades perfecting and translate it so it goes out into the html format. So we introduced the concept of dynamic Web pages.

The next thing is that you don't want to just look at this static page. You want to do transaction processing, commerce and other applications.

We're coming out with that [capability] in the next couple of months. Our Web server with transaction capabilities will be going into tests shortly and will be out by the end of the year.

WT: What else should we expect to see from Oracle in Internet server products and partnerships in the next few months?

Held: The other thing we are about to start talking about and announcing are some of the middleware standards -- the object standards that allow access and provide support and the ability to plug into different modules.

We're now going to have plug-ins on the server side. We have a partnership with VeriFone [the transaction automation company in Redwood City, Calif.]. They have a huge array of software that ties into the payments network.

Why would you want to duplicate that? You don't. You'll have a little cartridge that will allow you to plug in the whole VeriFone world. That's coming out later in the year and is again going down the open systems path.

WT: How important is it to the Internet server market that standards stay open?

Held: The worst thing for the industry would be for a propriety standard to take hold. We're working with systems people, the hardware and software manufacturers. There will be lots of partners in the future, [such as] publishing people who deal with some of the graphics preparation, image storage and refocus for the Web content that has already been created.

Developments for the Web do not have to be wholly new. In fact, it's a big mistake to think you are going to develop all new material. What you want is a new distribution of client-server computing, one that makes it more economical -- more approachable because everybody is getting comfortable with Web browsers -- but that takes advantage of the client-server infrastructure we already have.

WT: What's the relationship between the Oracle server division and the new concept of a low-priced "network computer" that allows Internet access?

Held: We have been fostering a set of standards to get all of these companies to build compatible parts.

IBM and Sun will build them. They will look like computers, like telephones, like television set-top boxes. Our goal in all of this is to make sure we all agree on a set of standards and that software will run on all of them. Who needs these huge processing programs?

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