Oracle reheats thin-client pitch

What a difference a year doesn't make.Last year Oracle was trying to sell users on building applications with its Network Computing Architecture (NCA) and Oracle8 database. A year later, it looks like deja vu all over again for Oracle. The company can now point to real products, from Oracle8 to two NCA-based versions of its packaged applications. Some Oracle users say the thin-client approach could relieve many of their PC support pains. But that doesn't mean people are rushing to go down the NCA path.

What a difference a year doesn’t make.Last year Oracle was trying to sell users on building applications with its Network Computing Architecture (NCA) and Oracle8 database. A year later, with its database and applications user groups holding back-to-back conferences next week and next, it looks like deja vu all over again for Oracle.

The Redwood Shores, California, company can now point to real products, from Oracle8 to two NCA-based versions of its packaged applications. And a half-dozen Oracle users this week said the thin-client approach could relieve many of their PC support pains.

But that doesn’t mean people are falling all over themselves to go down the NCA path.

Oracle8 and the NCA-enabled applications weren’t there fast enough for LG&E Energy Corp., a utility in Louisville, Kentucky, that plans to go live with Oracle7-based financial systems in July.

LG&E eventually wants to build a three-tier NCA setup, but it is starting with fat clients and doesn’t expect to slim them down for a year or more, said Mike Spurlock, director of accounting and reporting at the utility.

“Oracle talks about NCA like it’s a present reality, but the general perception of [users] is that it’s still a future,” said Carl Olofson, an analyst at IDC.

That was the case when Onsale, an Internet-based auction house in Menlo Park, California, was preparing to install Oracle’s financial applications on Windows NT last year.

The thin-client software “wasn’t quite there for NT, and we were anxious to get going,” said Alan Fisher, chief technical officer at Onsale. It turned on a fat-client system last month and now hopes to switch to NCA late this year, he said.

Oracle Applications Release 10.7 NCA finally became available in January. But some users are still having trouble getting the software going.

Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, is trying to install 10.7 NCA by the start of next month. But it has had to keep going back to Oracle for missing pieces of software, putting the plans in jeopardy.

“There probably isn’t enough time to do it [with NCA] at this point,” said Kenneth Hapeman, director of Skidmore’s information technology center.

Instead, the school may install fat-client systems in its finance office and delay giving 10.7 NCA to other users.

Oracle also is leading users on a full-speed-ahead NCA rollout schedule that may be hard to keep up with: 10.7 NCA is already being followed by the NCA-only Release 11, which is due to be launched at in a few week at Oracle Applications Users Group conference in San Diego.

And Oracle is talking about a new componentised application architecture planned for next year.

Subaru of America wants to change its parts division’s order-entry system to an NCA setup with Oracle8 and Release 11 of Oracle’s applications. But the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, automaker just put 10.7 NCA financials on fat clients.

And Oracle is telling the company it has to keep the two systems uniform to run them on one server, said Al Capuano, a Subaru project manager. As a result, the NCA move may not happen “for another two years now,” he said.

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