Oracle sees the future of client-server in an Internet architecture

Agencies that rely heavily on Oracle Corp. databases can kiss their client-server
architectures goodbye.


Oracle is moving to a strictly Internet architecture, using a Web browser as the single
interface to all data.


“We will never again build for client-server,” Oracle chairman Larry Ellison
said at the Planet ’98 supply chain conference in Dallas recently. “It was a bad
idea.”


He called the company’s forthcoming Oracle8i database management system “an
Internet database.” Oracle Applications 10.7cs will be the company’s final
client-server release.


I spoke with Ellison later, asking him whether government agencies with significant
investments in client-server


Oracle will find themselves at a technological dead end.


“They should be able to move to an Internet solution without changing a single
line of code,” he said. “What changes is the way the application is viewed and
updated.”


That’s a little optimistic. Some programming would be necessary to create Web
forms for queries and updates. But any site that uses Oracle tools could still design and
maintain homegrown client-server apps.


Ellison cited administrative complexity and maintenance costs as the driving force
behind the company’s decision. Another concern, he said, is that customers have been
frustrated by having to search too many places to gather information from distributed
databases. Merging the results is time-consuming, and WANs add further delays.


Ellison now wants to blend Web access with the best of client-server and
yesteryear’s mainframe environments: Use a Web browser to access an application
server. Use the application server to access a single, global database server.


The global approach has several advantages:


“You can tell this is a long-term solution because it’s starting to mirror
traditional networks,” Ellison said. Television and telephone networks have a simple
user appliance and trained professionals to maintain the difficult parts, he said.


Client-server environments, in contrast, end up with support staffs running all over
the place, trying to take care of desktop PCs, distributed servers and networks.


“Is there any wonder there’s an information technology labor shortage?”
Ellison said.


Ellison called his new idea Internet computing to put a slightly different spin on the
network computer idea he formerly promoted. The difference is that he acknowledges users
still want desktop PCs for programs such as Microsoft Word and Excel. But he said he
firmly believes desktop machines, or even servers in satellite offices, are the wrong
place for data shared by the whole organization.


Oracle itself is moving to consolidate its widely dispersed server network. Ellison
said the company used to operate servers in dozens of countries for its sales force. Now
one global server serves 140 countries,


e-mail servers have been cut from 50 to four, and 140 human resources servers have been
consolidated into one.


The short-term view is that Ellison needs a way to hold back the proliferation of
servers running Microsoft Windows NT and SQL Server, which cut into Oracle’s
business.


But a longer view paints an interesting picture. If centralized data sources can
relieve desktop complexity and raise user productivity, we may see a rise in application
specialty sites, constructed to serve niche purposes such as forms processing.


Anything that promises significant user savings will prosper. The fact that Ellison is
betting the future of his company on this evolution indicates he truly expects it to
happen.  


Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journalist, webmaster and Internet programmer for
Cahners Business Information Inc. E-mail him at smccarthy@cahners.com.
 

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