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5/7/2009
11:23 AM
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Oracle's Grand Collaboration Ambitions

Oracle hopes its Beehive collaboration platform will lead to sales of other Oracle products. And if it happens to shove Microsoft Exchange out the door, that's a bonus.

Oracle hopes its Beehive collaboration platform will lead to sales of other Oracle products. And if it happens to shove Microsoft Exchange out the door, that's a bonus.This week Oracle announced a new module for its Beehive platform. The new module is a wiki-based team collaboration component that lets users create wikis that can be viewed and edited by other group members. Teams can also upload and share Office documents. The new module also offers Twitter-like microblogging.

There's nothing particularly new about wiki-centric team workspaces. What really excites Oracle is the wiki in combination with Beehive's other features. Most prominent is a Zimbra Web client that the company hopes will encourage customers to dump Exchange.

Oracle's proposition is that e-mail should be tightly integrated with other collaboration tools, such as calendars and group workspaces, which means having everything run on the same middleware and databases (Oracle's).

The Beehive platform makes that happen. "Everything is stored in an Oracle database," says David Gilmour, senior vice president of collaboration technologies at Oracle. "Whether it's IM, an appointment, an e-mail message, a folder in a team workspace, a wiki change, all that stuff should be in one database and accessed through one middleware stack."

Oracle says customers can save time and money by managing just one application stack instead of integrating and managing disparate products.

"For every customer that uses Exchange and Beehive, they will discover that the economics of consolidating their messaging onto a single platform becomes more attractive." Gilmour also says Beehive, via Zimbra, can support Outlook as the mail client, so users get the same experience while IT gets to ditch Exchange on the back end.

Oracle argues that another benefit is streamlined compliance. Collaboration presents significant challenges to the enterprise because it sets sensitive business content adrift with very few controls. At the same time, business content being created and shared may fall under industry or government regulations. Enterprises have to ensure such content is properly archived and stored-and retrievable if it turns out to be relevant to litigation.

Oracle will happily walk its customers down the hall to talk to the folks selling information rights management and content management software-all nicely integrated on the Oracle stack.

RIGHT DIAGNOSIS, WRONG PRESCRIPTION I don't disagree with these points. Managing separate vendor software packages is a pain. And Oracle is absolutely correct that collaboration creates an ugly compliance mess that needs to be carefully sorted.

Where I disagree is the prescription. The notion of a single application architecture delivered by a single vendor is a persistent fantasy among software providers.

Oracle may be able to point to a handful of customers who have adopted such as stack, but the response from a majority of IT enterprises will be the same as Barack Obama's at a town hall meeting when asked about the legalization of marijuana: "It ain't gonna happen."

One reason it ain't gonna happen is that other vendors have established their own beachheads in the enterprise, and like Oracle, see collaboration as a way to expand their presence. Case in point is IBM, which is integrating Louts Quickr, its collaboration platform, with its ECM software, FileNet and IBM Content Manager.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is pushing hard to get customers to adopt Office Communications Server, which marries IM, presence and VoIP. If it succeeds on the same scale with OCS as it has with Exchange and SharePoint, it will have a stranglehold on the communications/collaboration axis.

Yes, there will always be companies that choose Microsoft alternatives to messaging and collaboration, and Oracle is wise to have a menu of choices for customers. But as appealing as the single-vendor communication/collaboration vision may be, it's hot air.

Whether or not companies like Exchange, or any other major piece of software they have, once these applications get installed they develop significant inertia, and organizations rarely summon the collective energy to displace them.

From a vendor perspective, the smart money should assume a strong Microsoft presence somewhere along the axis of e-mail, IM/presence and collaboration, and be prepared to play nicely with it.

To its credit, Oracle recognizes this reality. Beehive has an interoperability connector to Exchange. "You don't have to leave Exchange," says Gilmour. But he won't mind if you do.

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis what IT and corporate professionals are looking for in business optimization. Download the report here (registration required).

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