Users pin hopes on Oracle thin-client apps

Production use of Oracle's browser-based applications is currently limited to about 10 companies. But prospective users are counting on the software to help them avoid widespread rollouts of Oracle's slow fat-client product. Several attendees at the recent Oracle Applications Users Group conference said they hope the thin-client applications - which shipped in January - will be well-proven by the time their Oracle installations are expanded corporatewide.

Production use of Oracle’s browser-based applications is currently limited to about 10 companies. But prospective users are counting on the software to help them avoid widespread rollouts of Oracle’s slow fat-client product.

Several attendees at the recent Oracle Applications Users Group conference said they hope the thin-client applications — which shipped in January — will be well-proven by the time their Oracle installations are expanded corporatewide.

Getting the skinny on the thin-client software was Steve Fawcett’s top priority at the conference. Fawcett is corporate applications manager at HydroChem Industrial Services Inc., a US$160 million cleaning company in Houston that is finalizing plans to buy Oracle’s applications.

HydroChem wants to get away from the character-mode software it now uses, but upgrading all of its PCs to run Windows-based applications isn’t high on the company’s wish list.

“That would be a waste of money,” Fawcett said. “We have a lot of people who basically just do data entry, and they don’t need the fastest machine on the block.”

Oracle’s thin-client approach, which is based on its Network Computing Architecture (NCA), moves processing off of PCs and onto application servers. Users access the applications through Java-based client code that runs inside World Wide Web browsers.

For some users, the NCA path is expected to be a way around the performance problems that have plagued Oracle’s Windows-based client software in installations that cut across multiple offices.

For example, Mapco Coal Inc. uses Oracle’s fat-client software to run payroll and human resources at its Tulsa, Oklahoma, headquarters. But the company plans to switch to a three-tier NCA installation when the applications are extended to its coal mines early next year, said Geoff Goolsbay, applications manager at Mapco.

Response times on the company’s wide-area network “would be atrocious” with the Windows software, he said.

Other users, who couldn’t wait for the NCA-based applications, have built their own thin-client setups by putting Oracle’s Windows software on servers equipped with Citrix Systems Inc.’s WinFrame PC emulator.

Mapco also considered a Citrix-based implementation, “but that would require a lot of [server] hardware,” Goolsbay said. The NCA-based approach isn’t expected to be nearly as server-heavy, he added.

Oracle, in Redwood Shores, California, is selling the new Release 11 of its application suite only in thin-client mode. Users still can buy the earlier Windows version, “but we’re strongly encouraging people to go to NCA” to get better performance, said Ron Wohl, senior vice president of applications development at Oracle.

Oracle is the first vendor with browser-based applications, but SAP AG and other rivals already have three-tier setups that off-load some processing from their Windows client software, said Byron Miller, an analyst at Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Other vendors made [client/server] work. These guys couldn’t,” he said.

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