One database to rule them all


3 Feb 2004

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If the ‘single source of truth’ sounds more like something you’d find in the land of Mordor than in a San Diego conference centre, Oracle was making no apologies. This was one of its core themes at last week’s AppsWorld event in California. Another might have been ‘one database to rule them all’.

The software giant has spent the past couple of years trying to persuade organisations that a centralised database was the only cure for fragmented data that costs companies time and money – hence ‘the single source of truth’. Its quest for quality information distributed throughout an organisation has seen Oracle evolve from being the leading database vendor into an applications developer with its fingers spreading into every corner of business processes.

There was a suspicion that Oracle believed it could supply the entire solution, but this notion was quashed at San Diego where all the talk was about ways of integrating with other people’s products and legacy systems. The latest 10g version of the company’s database software is empowered with integration tools, but more significant was a brand new product, the Customer Data Hub, that delivers an enterprise view of customer information, built to work with non-Oracle applications such as Microsoft, Siebel, SAP and PeopleSoft.

The hub delivers real-time synchronisation of information using familiar Oracle components such as Applications Server and sundry database tools with web services stacked on to help it to integrate more easily.

“We recognise that virtually all of our customers have non-Oracle legacy applications and there’s a desire to get an integrated view,” said chairman Jeff Henley. Co-president Chuck Phillips introduced the hub but was careful to stress that Oracle’s e-Business Suite, a collection of enterprise-wide modules that pool from a central database, remained the “preferred product”.

Indeed, it’s only two years since the suite was pushed as an out-of-the-box solution that would wipe away the complexity of a ‘best-of-breed’ culture where customers were struggling to stitch disparate components together. Now Oracle is saying that the suite was never intended as a one-stop product.

“It was such a new notion because at that time it was all about best of breed and we probably oversimplified it,” admits executive vice-president Ron Wohl. “We now recognise that our systems can be put in place alongside other systems.”

Just in case we thought Oracle was changing its story, its CEO Larry Ellison (pictured), devoted an early part of his keynote speech to explaining the suite: “Our aim was not to convince the world that it should only buy applications from Oracle. It was about having a single database model.”

Cynics might argue that the new-found enthusiasm for integration is Oracle’s acknowledgement that the suite has proved a hard sell. Perhaps the evolution of the hub product started with Oracle adapting its suite components to help sell it in to businesses. “It’s an acknowledgement that customers can’t always get there [the e-Business Suite] that quickly,” Phillips told siliconrepublic.com. He also explained that the data hub was an opportunity to sell into its competitors’ install base and a first step to selling customers up to the full e-Business Suite.

The suggestion that Oracle was coming late to the integration game was refuted by Phillips. “We always did a lot of work on integration, we just didn’t choose to talk about it. Now the ‘i’ word is on the table,” he said. Comparing it to rival products he argued that Oracle had an innovative offering: “No one else has a consistent data model that runs across the organisation and lets you integrate to a common point. The main competition is customers trying to do it themselves. One of the reasons it took us so long [to develop the product] is that there wasn’t a defined market. We’ve created a market,” Philips added.

The hub has evolved from talking to customers who were struggling to maintain information quality in their organisations, according to Phillips, a direct result of what Oracle described as its “renewed focus in customer activities”.

The core Oracle vision, the single database, remains the goal but there were signs at this year’s event that the company has had to explore other ways of getting there. We can only speculate if the timing of this change, so close to the high-profile news that Ellison got married, was entirely coincidental. Maybe he’s been reminded that it’s important to be able to integrate with other people.

By Ian Campbell