Oracle's Network Computing Gets Solutions Spin
The developer says more than 60 systems integrators and independent software companies have endorsed its Network Computing Architecture
In a blizzard of news releases created to herald a major change in strategy, Oracle Corp. has set the stage for a critical showdown with Microsoft Corp. over the future direction of network computing.
If nothing else, it signals a clear choice for developers, integrators and customers alike: CORBA or DCOM. CORBA is an acronym for Common Object Request Broker Architecture, specifications to ensure that products from different vendors work together on different platforms. DCOM, or Distributed Component Object Model, is Microsoft's competing specification.
The October PR blitz from the world's second largest software company started with its Network Computing Architecture announcement, gained momentum in mid-month with its secure commerce products introduction and achieved avalanche proportions with its new partnering strategy.
By the time the storm of statements cleared, the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company long known for its database software and information management products and services had redefined itself. It was now "the Internet and network computing solutions company, positioned to drive the next phase of ubiquitous service for individuals and corporations."
In the latest tally, according to Oracle, more than 60 systems, integrators and independent software companies have already endorsed the Network Computing Architecture, including Hewlett-Packard Co., Novell Inc., Netscape Communications Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. The foundation of NCA is CORBA.
Its second wave, an electronic commerce strategy for secure business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions, pushes a three-prong approach: deliver products that open new electronic business opportunities; use the NCA as the foundation; and allow customers to leverage existing corporate infotech investments.
On the last day of October came the news release that Oracle was strengthening its partnering strategy with a market segmentation plan to reduce competition between Oracle and its Alliance partners. The Alliance Program is made up of leading technology companies worldwide that partner with Oracle in exchange for a range of benefits. Calling it "a dramatic departure from previous practices," Oracle noted the new strategy would take 18 months to complete.
Included were plans to refocus the company's direct sales force, create three new segmented sales organizations and develop and maintain communication with its Alliance partner community. The company has begun to direct its sales force by size and complexity of job in three areas: large named customers in specific, global vertical markets; regional accounts; and medium-sized customers.
For Jack Pellicci, Oracle's vice president of strategy, solutions and marketing, and Tim Hoechst, director of technology, Oracle Government, the strategy announcements mark a major break with the past. For Ken Zecca, director of products for Anteon Corp., Fairfax, Va., (http://www.anteon.com/), an infotech company and Oracle systems integrator, they mark a new beginning.
"Our new strategic direction is really to become the network computing company. Our strategic intent is to enable the information age with network computing and to create the networked economy," says Pellicci.
Adds Hoechst, "NCA is the whole picture of information management, electronic commerce, what we are really calling the networked economy. The NCA makes such devices as the network computer possible and practical. The broad level of information access -- in schools, in homes, throughout the world -- is not possible with current computing architectures. When we start to change the way we architect information systems, then that becomes possible. And that is what we are talking about with NCA."
Hoechst explains that there are two main pieces to NCA. First, the communication between the three different tiers of the information system -- client or interface, application and data management -- happens in very open and standard ways. In the past, this has been a critical challenge because of the need to use a proprietary vehicle between applications and databases.
Pellicci sums it up: "The platform and software independent strategy integrates three things: the robustness of client/server; the ease of use; and the extensibility of objects. Those are the three key components of network computing."
Both Pellicci and Hoechst believe that systems integrators will need to re-examine their own core competencies because of Oracle's new strategy and marketing position. In the past, many systems integrators filled a specific niche well, and through the procurement process, could pigeonhole solutions into what they knew. Now, with extensibility allowing plug-ins to different information systems, systems integrators will need a broader skill set.
"The integration community [must] reinvent the way they do business. The days of the five- to 10-year monolithic project are gone. To survive, you will have to take a tactical and modular approach to how you add value," cautions Pellicci.
Specifically, he encourages systems integrators to recognize that their customers are worldwide and to adopt a global view. Further, he suggests systems integrators develop industry expertise in selected vertical markets and become network-centric. Finally, he advises systems integrators to remain alert to the need for extranets, that is, making information on intranets selectively available to the organization's strategic partners across the firewall.
On the integrator's side, Anteon's Zecca believes the new strategy will make it easier for his company and systems integrators in general to work with customers.
"Instead of trying to steer the client to your solution, the Oracle strategy will let us truly listen to the client and try and solve his or her problem," admits Zecca. "It also provides us a larger opportunity to partner with Oracle because we are no longer competing with them."
Zecca says the battle between CORBA and DCOM reminds him of the old fight for market share between VCR formats, Beta and VHS. "In the end, customers are going to decide who the market winner is. They always do."