Craig S. Mullins

Return to Home Page

January 2001


An Update on Oracle
By Craig S. Mullins

The last quarter of 2000 was very active for Oracle Corporation. Never a shy company, Oracle has garnered a lot of press recently; some negative, some positive, and some neutral. Let’s take a look at the recent happenings at Redwood Shores and see if we can make any sense out of it.

Oracle9i: A Strategy

The first bit of important news is the announcement of Oracle9i. The crux of the announcement provides a strategic direction for Oracle. Oracle is touting a single-engine architecture with built-in ETL, OLAP, and real-time personalization that empowers Oracle9i. Additionally, portal services and clickstream intelligence is embedded into the product to provide a complete and integrated e-business solution. There are a lot of buzz-words in those two sentences, but at the core of the strategy is integration and consolidation. What once were independent products now are becoming part of the database engine.

Consolidation of products into DBMS features is a continuing trend for database management systems. More and more functionality is being sucked into the DBMS. This is good because it simplifies the number of distinct product offerings and delivers more functionality in a single “product.” But it also complicates database administration because the DBMS is more complex and therefore, more difficult to learn, manage, and maintain.

Oracle’s overall strategy seems to consist of consolidation and integration of many of its standalone products into two distinct product lines: the DBMS and the application server. The benefit to the customer is more functionality and potentially, an easier to understand suite of products. The drawback for customers is that a single supplier (in this case, Oracle) gains more control over your infrastructure. Instead of one vendor supplying the DBMS and another the data warehousing support (ETL and OLAP), you now have one vendor supplying it all, Oracle. Many sites balk at having back-end and front-end features supplied by a single company because it places too much control over their business in the hands of a single supplier.

The Employee-Go-Round at Oracle

Their technology notwithstanding, Oracle is experiencing some trouble keeping its high-level executive management team intact. In late November, Oracle lost their second highest-ranking executive for the second time in less than six months. This time it was Gary Bloom, who resigned from Oracle to become CEO of Veritas Software, the high-flying storage management software provider. Late in June 2000, Ray Lane, the former Oracle COO resigned to pursue a career in the world of venture capital.

Although the specific reasons why each left the Oracle fold differ somewhat, the actual reason for both most likely can be attributed to the “Larry” factor. Lane was a highly sought after executive and rumors abounded that he would leave Oracle for more lucrative or powerful positions throughout his tenure at Oracle. But speculation about the real reason Lane left Oracle was that Larry Ellison wanted more control over the day-to-day operations of the company, thereby diminishing Lane’s power. 

Similarly, Bloom had CEO-level aspirations – a position to which it was unlikely he would ever ascend at Oracle as long as Ellison was around. So after 14 years with Oracle, Bloom resigned in late November 2000 to accept a position as CEO at Veritas.

Although the brain drain at Oracle is cause for concern, the loss of any single individual will not damage a company the size and stature of Oracle Corp. Of course, that would not include the loss of Ellison, whose departure would be quite damaging. Larry is Oracle’s visionary and is the key to Oracle’s current success. But he needs quality management to oversee a company the size Oracle.

However, it may be difficult to woo managerial talent to Oracle to fill the void left by Lane and Bloom as long as Ellison is in charge. Ellison appears to want to hold tightly to the reigns of the company. Any future management hires may find themselves with limited power.

In more positive employment new for Oracle, in late November former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart joined Oracle’s senior management team, reporting directly to Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison. Lockhart’s first task will be to refine and communicate Oracle’s business strategy. Larry Ellison said that "Joe brings perspective and experience not commonly found in Silicon Valley companies."

Although the addition of Lockhart does not resolve the issue of who is second-in-command at Oracle, it should help to strengthen Oracle’s public image.

A Bad Support Rap

Speaking of Oracle’s public image, a recent survey raps Oracle’s technical support. At the annual UK Oracle User Group conference in Birmingham results of a support and maintenance survey completed by 191 Oracle users were announced. The results: one in three Oracle users has difficulty maintaining their software and one in five is unhappy with Oracle's level of support.

The support is increasingly important to customers because database products are becoming more and more complex. Keeping the DBMS up-to-date with fixes and patches is a difficult problem even with excellent support. Oracle needs to take their user’s issues to heart and better address their maintenance needs. Or risk losing business to a company with a better reputation for support, like IBM.

For the long term, though, Oracle appears to be on track with its strategy and development plans. They just need to overcome some of their recent problems.

Book of the Month

In keeping with my promise to highlight a useful technical book in each month’s column, this month’s book, appropriately enough, is Oracle 24x7 Tips & Techniques (Oracle Press/McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0072119993) by Venkat Devraj and Ravi Balwada. This book contains a wealth of useful advice on building and maintaining highly available Oracle systems. This type of information is quite useful for supporting the availability needs of modern e-business and e-commerce applications. If you need to minimize the downtime for your Oracle databases and applications, this book will help immensely.


From Database Trends, January 2001.
© 2001 Craig S. Mullins,  All rights reserved.