Oracle Pitches Warehousing Strategy

Oracle Corp. today outlined its strategy to target the growing data warehousing market, with new products and partnerships that it hopes will allow it to get the attention of small, medium-sized and large businesses.

The strategy calls for Oracle to provide not only the underlying technology for building and managing a data warehouse, but also many of the analytical software applications that allow customers to drill down into their data and extract meaning from it, officials said.

"Oracle is all about the broad picture, about providing the platform to set up and manage a data warehouse, and about the applications that make it useful," said Gary Bloom, executive vice president of Oracle's system products division, at a press conference here at the company's Redwood Shores, California headquarters.

Oracle hosted its first data warehousing event in 1995, and since than has been accumulating products and technologies by acquisition and through its own development efforts.

One analyst said the market is moving quickly towards "pre-packaged solutions," and Oracle's strategy will allow it to compete effectively against chief rivals IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp.

"Microsoft is doing it through partnerships, and Oracle is doing it by providing some of the analytical applications itself, and they're both perfectly reasonable routes to take," said Colin White, founder of IT consulting firm Database Associates International Inc. in Morgan Hill, California.

Among its new offerings, Oracle announced Version 2.0 of Oracle Warehouse Builder, a Java-based release of its flagship data warehouse design and management system that includes visual modeling, data extraction and loading capabilities.

"Oracle Warehouse Builder offers a graphically-oriented, wizard-based tool that puts all the aspects of data warehousing -- designing, creating and managing -- into a single product," Bloom said. The product's extensive use of wizards reduces the amount of code developers must write to build a data warehouse, reducing the cost of implementation for corporations, he said.

Oracle worked with SAP AG and PeopleSoft Inc. to integrate Oracle Warehouse Builder with their enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, allowing data from the ERP suites to be incorporated more quickly into a data warehouse, Oracle officials said. Oracle also released an "integrator" application programming interface, allowing other ERP vendors to build similar integration capabilities into their own software products.

Targeted at large corporations, Oracle Warehouse Builder Version 2.0 will be in beta by the end of the year, with the full product launch planned for the second quarter of 1999, official said.

For smaller businesses Oracle announced Version 2.0 of Oracle Data Mart Suite, a turnkey package for designing and building a data mart. Version 2.0 runs on Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris operating system as well as Microsoft Cop.'s Windows NT, and is shipping now in the U.S., officials said.

Oracle would not provide pricing yet for the new versions of Oracle Warehouse Builder or Oracle Data Mart Suite.

The database company also said today it has acquired privately held One Meaning Inc., a Palo Alto, California provider of meta data management tools. Meta data refers to information that describes the data in a data warehouse. Oracle said it plans to integrate One Meaning's technology into Oracle Warehouse Builder by the time it is released. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

The company also announced it has collaborated with IBM and Unisys Corp. on a standard for meta data. The standard, which has been submitted to the Object Management Group, brings Oracle into conflict with Microsoft, which has proposed one of its own.

The database vendor will find itself in stiff competition with Microsoft and IBM in the data warehousing market. To help lure customers to its own data warehousing platform, Oracle has added features to its forthcoming Oracle 8i database that it says make its platform faster and more useable.

They include "summary management," a feature which remembers frequently asked data queries and stores the information in pre-summarized tables for faster access, officials said. Oracle 8i intelligently knows which relevant summary tables are available, and also updates them when new information is added to the database, Bloom said.

New analytic applications include Oracle Activa, activity-based costing software that it acquired earlier in the year from PricewaterhouseCoopers. The company also announced new versions of Oracle Balanced Scorecard, an application for examining financial, customer, internal business process and growth data; and the Business Intelligence Applications suite, designed to offer fast answers to day-to-day data warehouse queries.

In addition, Oracle also announced new Web-based tools that allow users to access their warehoused data and find answers to queries. They include new versions of Oracle Reports, Oracle Discover, and Oracle Express, an OLAP (online analytical processing) engine.

The company also unveiled a product certification initiative for third-party vendors as a way of signaling to users that their products are compatible with its own. Finally, Oracle said it has formed a partnership with marketing firm Peppers & Rogers to provide companies with lessons in one-to-one marketing that take advantage of information gleaned from the data warehouse.