Larry Ellison is betting his future on the Internet, and at the OpenWorld show the Oracle chairman and CEO told a packed hall of conference attendees why they should do the same.
In a now familiar pitch, Ellison said client/server computing is headed for the scrap heap, driven out by the high cost of maintaining multiple "fat" clients, IT labor shortages and the inefficiency of storing data in networks of small, separate servers where it can't be accessed easily by managers.
In the future, businesses will store all of their data in a few large databases which employees, customers and partners will be able to access from anywhere in the world via secure Web application servers using a simple Internet browser, Ellison said.
"Internet computing is Oracle's future, and we think the future of the entire industry," Ellison said.
The technology behind that Internet-based computing system, of course, should be Oracle8i, Ellison said, the company's flagship database product which was launched officially here.
"It's not just a database," Ellison said. "It's a complete, unified, extensible platform for running applications and distributing information worldwide, where the only thing you need is Oracle8i, a browser and nothing else."
The Oracle chief was joined on stage by an Oracle engineer who demonstrated new technologies in Oracle8i that Ellison says put the "i" -- for Internet -- in the product's name.
They include Internet File System (iFS), which allows users to integrate any type of file -- including a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation or a Microsoft Word file -- into an Oracle8i database. In the demonstration, several files that included text and images were added to a database using a simple drag and drop procedure.
In the future, Ellison continued, professionals such as doctors and dentists will acquire "application services" from providers who meet their customer billing, patient scheduling and other computing needs. "If you're a dentist, why would you ever have an entire accounting system hosted on a server in your office?" Ellison asked.
For smaller businesses, the company has said it will offer an application hosting service, called Oracle Business Online, which allows companies to lease Oracle's Release 11 Applications suite hosted on servers maintained by Oracle.
Due in January 1999, Business Online will cost US$395 to $895 per user per month for Release 11, while a hosted e-mail service called Internet Messaging will be priced at $10 per month per user, Ellison announced.
By June of next year, Oracle Business Online will include Oracle8i applications built by third-party vendors, he said.
In a question and answer period with the press after his keynote, Ellison declined to offer any sales predictions for the new database product.
"I expect Oracle to continue to take market share away from everyone, away from IBM and away from Microsoft... and I think Oracle8i puts us in a better position vis-a-vis our competitors than anything," he said.
At least one conference attendee was skeptical of Ellison's prediction that there will be a dramatic shift from client/server computing to "corporate Internets," as Ellison put it.
"There are a lot of companies out there with legacy systems they have invested a lot of money in, and they can't just let go of them like that," said Jerry de Guzman, business development executive with Progressive Strategies Inc. in New York.
"(Oracle) supported the client/server model too, when that was fashionable," de Guzman noted.
Another attendee said emulating the mainframe model of storing data in large, centralised databases is the way to go.
"I always thought the centralised model was better anyway. (Oracle's plan) just takes the old mainframe model and adds a GUI (graphical user interface)," the attendee said.
By promoting the demise of the client/server model, Ellison is "obviously trying to take away Microsoft's bread and butter; I think he might be moving in the right direction this time," the attendee said.
Meanwhile, Oracle8i is due to start shipping by the end of the year, and "pricing will be largely unchanged from Oracle8," Ellison said.
Oracle in Redwood Shores, California can be reached at +1-650-506-7000, or at http://www.oracle.com/.