ORACLEWORLD - Oracle grid computing plan faces obstacles

Although many users at this week's OracleWorld 2003 conference in San Francisco said they have an interest in Oracle 's new grid computing technology, several added that they're not ready to buy into the server clustering plans being pushed by Oracle and other vendors.

Oracle formally unveiled its 10g product line at the conference, after previewing the announcements last month. CEO Larry Ellison and other Oracle officials said the upgraded database, application server software and management tools are the cornerstone of a full-fledged platform for grid computing installations that split applications across large numbers of low-end servers.

Ellison noted during an open Q&A session that Oracle has been shipping clustering technology for more than a decade. "Now, with 10g, you really can cluster across lots of machines, and we have the management tools to go along with it," he said.

But Ellison acknowledged that it will take time for the grid concept to catch on with users. Most companies "still operate on the principle of using one large machine as the database server," he said. "It's not going to happen overnight, but there will be an inexorable move (to grid computing). The economics are compelling; the reliability is compelling."

Arthur Fleiss, senior manager of the information systems department at New York-based Colgate-Palmolive , said the consumer goods maker has been beta-testing Oracle Database 10g for the past month and is interested in exploiting grid computing to improve application reliability and performance. But first, there needs to be "a change in mind-set" within his company, he added.

Fleiss said the technical challenges of setting up a grid installation aren't great. But the prevailing view of how to configure systems at Colgate-Palmolive is that there is "one application and one server, and to get people to think beyond that is a change," he said. "That's the biggest hurdle."

Other Oracle users said they're in no rush to implement grid computing. "As far as our environment goes, I don't see a need for Oracle's grid architecture," said Jeremy Forman, a computer systems analyst at the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department in Santa Fe.

Forman is beta-testing the 10g database and said he sees the potential benefits of harnessing CPU power across numerous servers. But the highway department doesn't need that kind of performance boost at this point. "Performancewise, we're pretty happy with how the apps work," Forman said.

Oracle didn't say how it will price its software for grid installations. But the company claimed that users will be able to save money by relying on farms of low-cost blade servers that can be quickly expanded when processing demand spikes, instead of running applications on mainframes or large Unix servers that often are underutilised.

Jamie Shiers, database group lead at the IT division of CERN, a scientific research laboratory in Geneva, said Oracle and other vendors must ensure that their products don't become proprietary. "The biggest danger for grid is that it splinters like Unix," Shiers said. If that can be avoided, he added, grid technology should be the wave of the future.

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Oracle Continues PeopleSoft Quest

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison fielded questions from users and the press during a session at OracleWorld 2003. Excerpts from his comments follow.

On the status of Oracle's hostile bid to buy business applications rival PeopleSoft Inc.: The government is reviewing our acquisition (offer). They will let us know what they think in October or November. We have our fingers crossed. We're very determined to complete this acquisition. We're very patient.

On how long it will take for users to accept grid computing as a mainstream IT approach: Most customers don't use RAC (Oracle's Real Application Clusters technology). I don't think large machines will disappear overnight. This begins a trend. We're going to see a gradual movement from (running software on) one big server to the grid approach.

On different ways of pricing software: Counting processors is very hard. It's also hard to count users. What makes much more sense is the notion of an enterprise license. You pay so much per year for the use of Oracle software and use as much as you want. That's where everything is going.

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