The challenge of trying to consolidate fragmented information within companies will most easily be solved by grid architectures that link lots of smaller databases into one virtual database, Ellison said. Oracle predicts that the 60% growth in Real Application Clusters sales posted during the 2004 fiscal year is just the beginning. "The future isn't 64- or 128-processor machines," Ellison said. "The future of computing is two-processor machines or four-processor machines grouped together in a grid."
Other evidence shows that grid computing is starting to catch on. Market researcher Evans Data last week said a June survey of 502 database developers found that 37% are implementing or plan to implement a grid-computing architecture. That's up from 21% in December. The survey found that six out of 10 developers will eventually implement grid systems to support database applications, transactional databases, data-warehouse and analytic software, and specialized scientific and engineering applications. Still, while many developers expect faster database performance, improved database availability, and more memory space from grid-computing technology, fully one-third see no tangible benefits.
The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation Inc., which uses an Oracle 9i database to maintain 30 million immigrant records, plans to install a grid system later this year using the Oracle 10g database, RAC software, and multiple rack-mounted blade servers. The architecture will spread the workload among inexpensive blade servers that will be easier to operate and maintain, IT director Sam Daniel says. The current system uses two database servers kept in sync using RAC. "Grid is where we want to go," Daniel says.
Ellison pointed to a growing RAC customer base that numbers 4,200 as evidence that Oracle is ahead of grid competitors. But Burton Group analyst James Kobielus says there's no one leader, largely because there's no one right approach. "Basically, they're playing a game of true grid--my grid is bigger than yours, my grid has more muscle than your grid, my grid is a true grid and yours isn't," Kobielus says. "This is a bunch of bunk. There are a lot of ways to do grid."
Meanwhile, Oracle continues to push the applications it expects will increasingly run on grid architectures. The company provided early details of Oracle's 11i.10 E-business software, due for release later this year, promising a relaunch of the sales and marketing modules of the customer-relationship-management suite, a beefed-up service module, and more integration with front- and back-end business processes.
But some analysts want to see Oracle devote less attention to applications and concentrate on its core database business. "Apps are under pressure," says Charles Di Bona, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. App vendors are being forced to eat into margins by offering products at discounts of as much as 80%, and prime markets, such as enterprise resource planning, are saturated. Says Di Bona, "They're competing over table scraps."