Oracle Considers Supporting Competing Databases

Ellison says Oracle's upcoming Fusion applications could run on IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server -- if they can pass certification tests.
Oracle will certify that its iFlex and Retek applications will run on IBM's DB2 database as well as Oracle's database, and it is actively considering whether its future Fusion applications will be engineered to work with DB2 as well.

But CEO Larry Ellison said Wednesday that any competing databases Oracle supports must be able to run the thousands of tests that certify that Oracle's applications will work with that database. Ellison says IBM is capable of that and so is Microsoft, should Oracle decide to support its SQL Server database.

But databases with small market shares, such as Sybase Inc. and open-source databases, such as PostgreSQL and MySQL, needn't apply, Ellison said in a question-and-answer session with the press following his Oracle OpenWorld keynote address.

"It's a nontrivial process to supply certification. IBM is much better equipped to go through it (than many companies). I'm not sure I can say that for these other databases," Ellison said in response to an InformationWeek question.

At Oracle OpenWorld Monday, Oracle President Charles Phillips indicated that Oracle would spend the next six-to-nine months discussing Fusion priorities with customers; those conversations will determine whether it's important to have applications that can run on DB2.

Oracle's plans for Siebel Systems Inc., which Oracle is acquiring for $5.85 billion, and its applications, have been a hot topic at Oracle OpenWorld this week in San Francisco. Asked if Oracle would retain the code of Siebel's Nexus project, which was aimed at producing components for pre-built business processes, Ellison said it might not. "We can reproduce code pretty quickly" for a new application, Ellison said. What's more important, he said, are the application screen flows and user-interface elements captured in the Nexus approach. Some of them may be brought forward into the Fusion applications, he said.

Siebel was working on Nexus component business processes with BEA Systems, IBM, and Microsoft. Asked if middleware supplier BEA Systems might be Oracle's next acquisition target, Ellison rejected the idea. "At one time BEA was very high on our list," he said. But BEA has taken steps to make itself a difficult acquisition target, such as board members with staggered terms, which prevents a new board from being elected in a proxy battle, and "poison pill" provisions in the event of a takeover.

Ellison repeatedly downplayed Oracle's growing competition with applications vendor SAP. "I think the application business is much more complex than just Oracle and SAP," he said, citing the number of companies that produce vertical-industry applications in banking, health care, pharmaceuticals, energy, and other industries.

One competitor is, which offers hosted customer-relationship-management applications. Ellison was an original investor in the company. "We're going to go after SalesForce. I'd like to see my investment go to zero," quipped Ellison.

On his relationship with Siebel chairman Tom Siebel, a former Oracle employee for more than 10 years, Ellison said Siebel "built a good relationship with IBM on the selling side. All of Tom's experience is going to be very valuable to us." Ellison has said Siebel will remain with Oracle for the time being, but details about his role haven't been disclosed.

Siebel has made unflattering remarks about Ellison's management style. "I have no problem with him having said interesting and provocative things about me in the past. I might have said something about him. That's all water under the bridge now," Ellison said.

During his keynote, Ellison said Oracle executives were debating whether the Oracle database system should allow unencrypted backup of data, since that has resulted in data exposures when backup tapes are lost or stolen. Ellison said the debate indicated the degree to which Oracle takes data security seriously. Oracle 10g provides the option of encrypting data as it is backed up.

After his talk, Ellison was questioned by an Oracle customer on why, when her firm subscribed to Oracle's highest-grade technical support, she ended up talking to support personnel "on the other side of the planet."

"We have support centers in Colorado and California. You're calling during the daytime and always getting our Indian support center?" he asked in disbelief. When the woman said that was the case on Oracle Application Server questions, Ellison urged her to "write me a note and I'll look into it."

A 12-meter sailboat, Oracle's sponsored entry in the 2003 America's Cup, is on display in the North Hall of the Moscone Convention Center during the weeklong Oracle OpenWorld. The boat was eliminated in trials leading up to the final competition between defender Team New Zealand and Swiss challenger Alinghi, which took the Cup. Asked if an Oracle sailboat will win the cup in the next round of competition, Ellison said he is up for another round of the fight.

"We have a new boat coming next year. We have a great team under (skipper) Chris Dixon. We have a better than ever chance of winning the America's Cup."

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