Oracle Celebrates 30 Years of InnovationBy David A. Kelly
A philosophy that "nothing is impossible" leads to big ideas and great successes.
Solving hard problems means thinking big. And for Oracle, a company now celebrating its 30th year in business, thinking big has led to big ideas, big plans, and big success.
"One of the things that makes Oracle unique is our philosophy that nothing is impossible. Impossible just takes a little longer," says Ken Jacobs, vice president of product strategy. "We have always had the ambition to solve the hardest problems. Not just to be satisfied with trying to solve today's problems but also anticipating tomorrow's and the next decade's problems. We'll always be ahead of the curve."
According to Jacobs, that desire to set the bar higher started early in Oracle's 30-year history. "Some of the first words I heard when I joined the company were compatibility, portability, and connectability," says Jacobs. "Those principles were synonymous with what we today call open systems—standards compliance, multiplatform support, and interoperability. That's what customers wanted back then, and it's what they still want today." The initial result of meeting those goals was the development of Oracle Database.
Since the success of the first commercial relational database in the late 1970s, Oracle has provided leadership on everything from enterprise applications to network computers, but it has also developed an enterprise-class infrastructure stack that spans and unites IT and business, delivering technology innovation and business results. In today's decentralized, distributed, heterogeneous world, Oracle has built products that not only work but also work together efficiently.
"If you look at what's been happening at Oracle recently, it's really a manifestation of what Larry Ellison has been talking about for many years—the ability to use our technology together with our applications through an integrated architecture that delivers a unified customer experience," says Charles Phillips, president of Oracle. "Our applications and products work together because they're engineered to work together. We have a world-class application suite, we're a leader in middleware, and we continue to be the market leader and gaining share in the database market. The fact that products from those different segments work together is something unique to Oracle."
The Oracle Database Evolution
Early database management systems, first defined in the 1960s, were structured around hierarchies or networks. These structures had predetermined relationships that were physically represented in the way data was stored. The linked data sets required application programming and were cumbersome to navigate. Dr. Ted Codd, who worked for IBM, had developed a new idea for data organization, which he called the "relational model." The relational database uses simple two-dimensional tables consisting of rows and columns, representing relationships with common data values and enabling users to create ad hoc queries against the data. At the time of Codd's work, the commercial value of the relational model was not evident, and IBM had no immediate plans to productize his ideas.
The founding of Oracle. In 1977 Larry Ellison, together with Bob Miner and Ed Oates, founded Software Development Laboratories (later to be renamed Oracle) to undertake contract development work. After reading a paper by Codd in the IBM Journal of Research and Development , they set to work, seizing the opportunity to develop the first commercial SQL relational database. They called their database "Oracle" after the code name of a CIA-funded project they had worked on together. The first version was never released.
Version 2: the first Oracle Database. Version 2 of the Oracle RDBMS was released in 1979, beating IBM to market by four years, and business took off. "Oracle Version 2 was the first commercial relational database on the market and the first SQL database on the market and began what turned out to be a marvelous history," says Jacobs.
A marvelous history indeed, as Oracle has grown into a worldwide organization with more than 68,000 employees and hundreds of products. However, in the early days, the product development of the original database was a relatively straightforward exercise, according to Andy Mendelsohn, senior vice president of Database Server Technologies at Oracle.
"Product planning was pretty easy then. You had big customers, they wanted certain features, and you built [those features] for them. At the same time, we were implementing the specification for SQL," says Mendelsohn.
Version 3: the portable Oracle Database. Portability was a critical requirement for customers, because it gave them a choice of what hardware and operating system platform to run on. To make the database portable, it was rewritten in C. "This was what made Oracle unique," says Mendelsohn. "At that time, the conventional wisdom said you had to write a separate version of a database for each operating system. We had just one version of the code, which was portable everywhere."
Version 4: the reliable Oracle Database. Version 4 of the Oracle RDBMS introduced an important idea in concurrency control—multiversion read consistency—which enables readers and writers to access the same data without one blocking the other. It also means that readers get a consistent view of the data, seeing it as it was when a query began and never having to worry about getting "dirty" or uncommitted data. The result was higher throughput, correct query results, and clean data.
"Multiversion read consistency not only made it easier to get high throughput but it also made it easier to write applications," says Jacobs. "You didn't have to worry about deadlocks, and you didn't have to work around the limitations of the system, because Oracle automatically provided good transaction performance and data consistency."
Version 5: the distributed Oracle Database. In 1985, Version 5 of the Oracle RDBMS began supporting the client/server model architecture and introduced distributed database support. "When Version 5 came out, we were just starting to look at simple single-user performance tests comparing databases running simple SQL statements on generated data," says Mendelsohn. "We were customer-driven to grow revenue and comply with the standard, which was always a big thing with us. We wanted it to be seen as a standards-compliant product, an open product that ran on every platform and followed an open standard. At that time, we were a small team, and we spent a lot of time just working on the quality of the product, filling in little holes, and having fun doing it."
Version 6: the scalable Oracle Database. As the database market exploded in the 1980s with new competitors, Oracle needed to answer performance claims and address additional features. The result was Oracle RDBMS Version 6—a redesigned database that outperformed the competition and set the foundation for future Oracle innovations. Oracle engineers rewrote all the code that was responsible for disk I/O, concurrency control, scalability, and backup and recovery, with the objective of building the world's most scalable and highly available system.
"Version 6 laid the foundation for Oracle to scale to the heights that it can today and provide the kind of high availability it does, far beyond what its competitors could at that time or today," says Jacobs.
Oracle7: the programmable Oracle Database. Oracle7 was a powerful release, incorporating stored procedures written in PL/SQL, which was designed for large-scale, complex environments. In addition, database triggers were implemented to carry out ancillary actions when an insert, update, or delete occurred and to enforce application-specific business rules.
"Oracle7 marked a turning point in the history of our product," says Jacobs. "It introduced the PL/SQL procedural capability and declarative referential integrity, so you could simply define the relationship between two tables, letting the system enforce it automatically without programming. Oracle7 also implemented distributed transaction management, so you could have updates that spanned multiple databases."
Oracle8: the all-your-data Oracle Database. With Oracle8, Oracle recognized that all of a company's information needed to be protected with the same rigor that was used to protect structured, transactional information. The database should be the repository for text, images, medical information, spatial information, or any other type of information. Oracle8 also introduced partitioning to simplify management of very large tables.
"We had two goals for Oracle8. We wanted to improve the infrastructure for very large database support so we could go more strongly into the data warehousing business, and we wanted to add object database capability," Mendelsohn says. "Partitioning is a key technology that lets companies store large amounts of data in an Oracle database in a way that is easy to manage."
Oracle8i: the internet Oracle Database. Oracle was one of the first companies to realize that "the internet changes everything"—from society to IT environments. To support the change, Oracle8i introduced features that made it possible to scale to a much higher degree than previously, with connections and native support for internet protocols.
"With Oracle8i Database, we introduced the ability to run in a multitier architecture, the way the internet is designed to work," explains Jacobs. "We also made it possible to use Java in the database engine. Oracle8i Database cemented Oracle's role as a leader in internet computing."
Oracle9i: the extended Oracle Database. Oracle9i Database introduced Oracle Real Application Clusters (Oracle RAC) in Release 2, allowing multiple servers to access a single database at one time and thus providing scalability and high availability. "Oracle RAC technology is probably the most significant technology in database history, aside from the relational database model itself," says Jacobs. In addition, Oracle9i Database introduced Oracle XML Database (Oracle XML DB), which lets users store and query XML documents in the database.
Oracle Database 10g: the grid computing database. Oracle Database 10g enabled organizations to reinvent their data centers and lower the total cost of ownership by moving from big, expensive symmetric multiprocessor boxes or mainframes to an infrastructure built on low-cost commodity servers.
Grid computing implies the virtualization of resources—storage, database servers, application servers, holistic management, and all the other aspects related to deploying and managing a virtualized IT environment. Grid computing enables organizations to manage many nodes as easily as one, so that workloads can be shifted from place to place as business requirements demand.
With Oracle Database 10g, Oracle introduced Automatic Storage Management for virtualizing and simplifying storage management for databases, and Oracle Enterprise Manager Grid Control for managing large numbers of systems as easily as one. Extending this idea of virtualization to the database level is challenging. "Oracle RAC enables us to bring the model of grid computing to database management, which no one else in the industry can do," says Jacobs. "So Oracle RAC is critical. Grid is the embodiment of this virtualization across all the layers of the stack."
"In Oracle Database 10g, the letter g stands for grid," says Mendelsohn. "That release meant that with grid computing, companies could use low-cost UNIX or Windows servers, or even low-cost Linux servers, and low-cost storage," he adds. "We could take this low-cost infrastructure and use it to deliver very high availability, very high scalability, very high performance, and very high security."
A key design goal for Oracle Database 10g was to make it as easy to manage as possible—self-managing, in fact. "Self-managing means reducing the number of knobs and dials that a system administrator has to turn and making the system responsive to workloads on its own, so that it can be self-tuning," says Jacobs.
It's hard to say what the future of Oracle Database will hold, but it's easy to see that it will be built on the architectural foundations and technical philosophies that have served Oracle customers so well in the past.
Beyond the Database: Oracle Fusion Middleware
Users need tools to build applications that use the database. In 1981, when Oracle was still Relational Software, Inc., the company began developing application development tools for the Oracle RDBMS, including the Interactive Application Facility, for building and using simple forms for data entry. These tools evolved, becoming products such as Oracle Forms and Oracle Reports. Soon these products were rearchitected for client/server development and deployment. Later they were reworked again to support the internet (multitier) architecture of development and deployment, all the while preserving customers' investments in application development.
"Oracle got into the middleware market in a real way toward the end of 2001, and the reason we got into middleware was simple," says Thomas Kurian, senior vice president, Oracle Fusion Middleware. "We saw that the architecture for enterprise applications was changing from client/server to internet architecture, so we felt that a new class of software would be required to run applications on this architecture."
From Oracle's perspective, the new middleware had to meet three goals. First, it had to be standards based. Next, it had to provide an integrated and best-of-breed stack of functionality that could address everything from security to messaging in a way that lowered costs and made it easier to build applications on. Last, it had to be "hot-pluggable," or able to plug-and-play into heterogeneous environments, so that organizations would not have to rip and replace existing systems to adopt the new middleware.
To address that need for growth, Oracle built the broadest middleware suite possible. "We've redefined what middleware is. It used to be just an application server. Then it became application server plus integration adapters here and there," says Phillips. "We've basically taken and redefined it into a suite of products that support standards and are designed to work together—from business intelligence and identity management to integration—so that customers can leverage what they need when they need it."
This concept of Oracle Fusion Middleware has resulted in rapid growth in both the product line and customer adoption, Kurian says. "There's a lot of components to Oracle Fusion Middleware, but there are six or seven key pieces," he says. "The first piece [Oracle JDeveloper] is a single, integrated visual development tool for building applications on an internet architecture, or a service-oriented architecture [SOA]. Once the application has been developed, Oracle's J2EE application server provides a very high-performance, scalable, and highly available clustered runtime environment to deploy and run these applications and to interoperate them by using Web services with Microsoft, IBM, and other vendors' products."
Oracle SOA Suite provides a way to integrate systems and applications with each other, to Web-enable legacy systems, and to build business processes that access information and automate workflow across different systems across the enterprise. Next, Kurian says, "Oracle Business Intelligence Suite gives companies a consistent, accurate, and integrated view of business intelligence across all their operational systems, data warehouses, and data marts. It provides a sophisticated query and analysis engine, relational and OLAP analytic capability, powerful and easy-to-use dashboards with which to see information, and reporting and publishing tools—along with alerting, scorecards, and other capabilities."
The next piece, Oracle Enterprise Content Management Suite, allows you to manage documents, unstructured information, and digital media in a repository; to publish these documents for access from the internet; to integrate these documents with enterprise applications; and to manage the document lifecycle from creation to archive while protecting intellectual property with digital rights management.
"Next, Oracle WebCenter Suite gives users a single, integrated environment for personalized access to enterprise applications and Web sites from the corporate intranet or the internet while they are working with other people in the organization by using several Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs, wikis, RSS, and mashups," Kurian says. "Further, we added Oracle Service Delivery Platform Suite, which makes it easy for enterprises and telecommunications providers to integrate voice over IP and rich media-streaming capability with their enterprise applications."
Kurian says the last piece is the operational environment. "We manage two elements operationally: first, we can provision and manage an organization's users, their identities, their roles and responsibilities, the accounts they have to access various systems, and their authorization privileges to lower cost and improve compliance with Oracle Identity and Access Management Suite," he says. "Organizations can also manage their systems, middleware, and enterprise applications themselves by using Oracle Enterprise Manager, and then they can deploy all of the middleware on a grid architecture so that they can scale up the system and manage everything with a clustered architecture."
Growth in the middleware space has been phenomenal. "We've gone from zero in 2001 to more than US$1 billion in product-only revenue, independent of Oracle's applications and database, in only five years," says Kurian. "We have 35,000 customers globally, independent of our applications, and another 15,000 that use our middleware products in addition to our applications. We add more than 5,500 new customers each year, are growing nearly 60 percent year on year on a revenue basis, and have passed BEA Systems in total product revenues from a standing start in just five years."
That growth is coming from the fundamental change in the computing industry and IT architectures. "Every company and every software developer in the world today is building applications on an internet architecture—also called service-oriented architecture. If you're building an application with an internet architecture, you need middleware," says Kurian. "So the value of middleware is only increasing and is fundamentally driven by the trend toward internet-type architecture."
In addition, Oracle's middleware strategy has played an important part in supporting its applications strategy.
"It was fortuitous that Oracle got into middleware before acquiring Siebel, PeopleSoft, and our industry applications, because our middleware supports our applications in three ways," says Kurian. "First, it can be used to extend the capabilities of existing applications. Second, it can be used to integrate the existing applications with each other, such as integrating Siebel and Oracle E-Business Suite. Last, our middleware stack is the foundation of our next generation of applications, called Oracle Fusion Applications."
Oracle Applications History
As Oracle Database evolved in the 1980s, Oracle's growing customer base was also asking for business-level solutions. The result, starting in 1987, was the launch of Oracle's application business and the rollout of a series of enterprise applications, including Oracle Financials, Oracle Human Resources, and Oracle Manufacturing. The applications went through multiple revisions, and by 1993 Oracle had rewritten its business applications for client/server environments, automating business processes from a centralized data center.
But the client/server architecture had problems. "Client/server was very hard for applications customers to deploy internally," says John Wookey, Oracle senior vice president, Applications Development. "There are performance and stability issues. When we looked at the architecture as the internet started maturing, it was obvious that was the direction we needed to take."
The company shifted gears. "With Oracle Applications 11, released in 1998, Larry Ellison made the decision that we would no longer support client/server applications," says Wookey. "That was a huge debate, because the marketplace was still buying client/server. Larry was convinced that it was the right thing to do. And the entire organization—not just the applications division but also core technology, consulting, and support—turned on a dime, and we moved to the internet. It was one of the things that propelled us into a very strong position in the applications business, because we were the first company that had a real application suite running on the internet."
In the early 2000s, things changed again for many companies. Large-scale accounting and business disasters shifted the focus from areas such as customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) to overall financial controls, compliance, and security.
"Financial controls became critical for customers. And we were ready, because we had already built specific capabilities into our system to handle these new requirements, such as segregation-of-duties functionality," says Wookey. "It's one of the important lessons to learn in the applications business. As long as business evolves, as long as industries evolve, applications need to evolve with them. Even systems that are considered commonplace, such as financial accounting—we invest in them continually, so we can continue to support our customers."
As the market for enterprise applications matured and consolidated, Oracle acquired companies with key components that now feed into Oracle's overall architecture and applications strategy. "Starting about three or four years ago, we saw an opportunity not just to build a suite in the ERP or CRM area but also to build a suite that was comprehensive within a specific industry," says Wookey. "And then with the PeopleSoft and JD Edwards acquisitions, we got strong ERP technology with a lot of capabilities for different industries."
The PeopleSoft acquisition offered Oracle an opportunity to deliver an improved set of business applications for organizations large and small, across any geography or industry. "The combined organization, comprising the best talent in the enterprise software industry, provides customers with greater innovation, support, and expertise across industries," says Wookey. "Our goal is to help customers achieve unprecedented levels of business efficiency and competitiveness by delivering products that reduce complexity and lower costs." This commitment to build a next-generation standards-based application suite is called Oracle Fusion.
The Siebel acquisition added to that commitment. "Oracle had pretty good CRM technology for what I'd call B2B-oriented industries," Wookey says. "Siebel had taken that baseline and developed industry-specific capabilities for insurance, life sciences, banking, telecommunications, and so on. When you combine that Siebel acquisition with some of the industry-specific acquisitions, you've got something that no one else in the industry has. And that's going to be the thing that really propels us to leadership in applications in the future."
Oracle's investment in its applications strategies is apparent in Oracle Applications Unlimited, a plan that offers lifetime support, simplified pricing, and upgrades to applications customers. To support this program, Oracle has announced new function-rich versions of its five major application suites (Oracle E-Business Suite, Oracle's PeopleSoft, Oracle's Siebel, Oracle's JD Edwards EnterpriseOne, and Oracle's JD Edwards World). "Oracle Applications Unlimited really demonstrates Oracle's commitment to its customers and ensures that they get the most out of their applications investments," says Jesper Andersen, senior vice president of applications strategy. "Moreover, Oracle Applications Unlimited promises that customers will not have to upgrade, even as Oracle moves to Oracle Fusion Applications."
For Andersen, Oracle Fusion Middleware's open architecture is the key to uniting and leveraging these industry and technology solutions. "It's the J2EE standard that's allowed us to have that hot-pluggable architecture. That's a tremendous benefit to us in the application space," says Andersen. "Because of the acquisitions we've done, our customers are very heterogeneous and live in a heterogeneous environment. We're supporting that through Oracle Fusion Middleware, which is the foundation of Oracle Fusion. It includes critical business functions that applications rely on, whether in identity management or business process management."
As business needs have become more dynamic, organizations have sought to buy and implement business process best practices such as order-to-cash or procure-to-pay. As a result, part of what Oracle is working on in Oracle Fusion Applications is externalizing business processes so that customers can buy vertical versions of them.
"By externalizing those business processes, using the Oracle Fusion Middleware Business Process Management Suite, we're providing our customers with a much easier way of modifying and configuring those business processes when they deploy Oracle Fusion Applications in the future," says Andersen.
These concepts have come together under the company's new Oracle Application Integration Architecture, a standards-based platform for business process management across Oracle, third-party, custom, and legacy applications. With this architecture, Oracle plans to deliver prebuilt integrations across Oracle ERP, CRM, and industry applications, using a common object model and a BPEL-based platform. The horizontal and industry-specific Process Integration Packs will provide preintegrated business flows across Oracle's portfolio of applications. Each Process Integration Pack will leverage the Oracle Fusion Middleware SOA Suite.
"By offering prebuilt integration packs, Oracle intends to reduce the cost of deploying and maintaining integrations while supporting a more adaptive application infrastructure," says Phillips. In addition, he says, the architecture will help companies adopt best practices.
The processes, objects, services, and methodology that are planned as part of this architecture are expected to be leveraged in Oracle Fusion Applications, enabling customers to address their integration needs and start adopting a standards-based SOA to prepare for the next generation of Oracle applications.
Passion for the Future
Oracle's pattern of success has given the company's technology and applications teams new goals to strive for.
"I'm always amazed at the innovation that the database, middleware, and application teams come up with every year," says Phillips. "Thirty years later, they still have a passion, they still have new ideas and a desire to reach further. It's a great position to be in."
If the past is any indication, that type of passion will help Oracle continue to maintain a commanding presence, even as business and technology continue to evolve.
"Oracle is redefining the enterprise software industry, and we're in a unique position, because we're not afraid of change and are always looking to innovate," says Phillips. "Most of our competitors can't move as quickly as we can, and they're afraid to change. We're willing to calculate risks and make big changes. The lifeblood of Oracle is our ability not only to accommodate change in an industry that's incredibly dynamic but also to thrive on it."
David A. Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a business, technology, and travel writer who lives in West Newton, Massachusetts.