Safeguard the DesktopBy Alan Joch
Oracle technology for Windows supports your midsize business.
The need to make IT investments that both minimize expenses and provide dependable, flexible, and scalable solutions is nothing new. For many companies, the IT solution is a single-vendor, integrated stack of enterprise software solutions. For some companies, however, including many midsize businesses, a cost-effective IT solution may involve multiple vendors. These businesses may choose to maintain technologies and expertise focused on the desktop and supplied by one vendor while supporting them with flexible and scalable business software from another vendor. One such IT combination is Microsoft Windows and Oracle Database.
As Chris Sykes, CEO of Volume Group, puts it, “Microsoft runs my desktop, and Oracle runs my business.” His global marketing communications company combined Oracle Database 11g, Microsoft Windows Server 2008, and custom .NET applications created by its in-house development staff.
Similarly, Olam International, a global commodity supply chain management company for coffee, cocoa, nuts, and other commodities, finds that the right IT setup is critical for its global business operation and growth. The company benefits from the combination of Oracle Database 11g and the Windows operating system to run its worldwide purchasing, distribution, and financial operations.
“There are many opportunities for data optimization, automation, and visibility,” says Thiagaraja Manikandan, Olam’s senior vice president and chief technology officer. “IT can be a competitive differentiator for our company.”
Organizations such as Volume and Olam use Oracle Database 11g and other Oracle products as a foundation for enterprise-class IT reliability, scalability, and security. At the same time, IT staffs, particularly those in small and midsize companies, continue to benefit from their expertise with the Windows operating system and Microsoft’s .NET development environment. Oracle/Microsoft users often fall into two main groups, says Carl Olofson, research vice president for information management and data integration software research at IDC, an independent research firm.
“They may already be an Oracle customer with a database administration staff that’s expert in Oracle technology, and the company is simply extending the environment to get certain advantages from Microsoft Windows Server,” he says. “A second group has determined that Oracle Database is the right RDBMS for their Windows-based applications and development activities, and finds that Oracle works well in combination with Microsoft technologies.”
In addition to its more traditional marketing communications business, Volume creates learning management systems that support its international clients’ technical sales and call center agents. It sought a competitive edge for these applications, but at the same time, it wasn’t ready to ditch its .NET applications or ignore its IT staff’s expertise in the development environment.
“We’re at a critical time in our evolution as a relatively small and independent company,” Volume’s Sykes says. “We’re now competing against the large global advertising networks, and technology has become the driver to differentiate Volume in the marketplace.” But as Volume grew, it “hit a performance ceiling” with Microsoft SQL Server, according to Sykes. “We needed something like Oracle Database 11g to give us that performance hike, improve security, and expand scalability,” he says. That’s the reason that Volume recently migrated to Oracle Database 11g.
“The time frame our technology team gave me for migrating from SQL Server to Oracle Database 11g was quite long, because their perception was that it would be a lengthy and painful process,” Sykes says. But that wasn’t the case.
“We factored in time for some potential disruption, but the migration hasn’t affected the delivery of our applications at all,” he says. “In some cases, the move actually sped up the implementation of some applications.”
In real-world terms, the added database power enables Volume to pitch larger, more lucrative projects. “Two years ago, the average revenues from our applications ranged between £50,000 and £100,000. Now, they’re averaging between £250,000 and £500,000. We couldn’t do that without Oracle,” Sykes says.
The opportunity to move to a more powerful database and stay with a familiar operating system platform proved attractive to Olam as well. The company chose to upgrade its older Oracle databases to Oracle Database 11g despite the potential of Microsoft SQL Server.
“Oracle provides much better scalability, performance, and availability capabilities than Microsoft SQL Server, so it doesn’t make sense to switch to some other technology when you’re already using a top-of-the-line database,” Olam’s Manikandan says.
Olam considered Microsoft SQL Server less flexible because it runs only on the Microsoft platform, a fact that would impede Olam’s switch to Linux or UNIX if it were to consider an operating system change sometime in the future. Upcoming decisions about applications also influenced Olam’s database decision. “We’re looking at some very top-of-the-line risk-management solutions that are very resource intensive,” Manikandan says. “They only run on high-end databases like Oracle.”
In addition to performance advantages, Oracle Database on Windows can be good news for a programming staff, thanks to the close integration between Oracle Database 11g and Microsoft’s Visual Studio development platform. Developers who use the .NET Framework can access Oracle Database 11g via Oracle Data Provider for .NET (ODP.NET) and Oracle Developer Tools for Visual Studio.
“ODP.NET and Oracle Developer Tools for Visual Studio allow .NET developers to use existing .NET applications and program against Oracle databases without any learning curve,” says Santanu Datta, senior director of Windows development at Oracle. “This eases Oracle/Microsoft technology integrations and speeds migrations from SQL Server to Oracle databases.”
Oracle Developer Tools for Visual Studio natively supports Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 and 2005 versions and includes program design tools, automatic .NET code generation, source control integration, and an integrated PL/SQL editor and debugger.
“I personally consider [ODP.NET and Oracle Developer Tools for Visual Studio] to be very important,” says IDC’s Olofson. “They’re critical to the adoption of Oracle technology in the Microsoft environment because .NET is where Windows developers do their work. These tools mean developers don’t have to make a paradigm shift to move from, say, SQL Server to Oracle.”
A Competitive Edge
Volume’s Sykes sees that Oracle and Microsoft together offer high-performing and flexible solutions at economical prices. Initially, he says, his staff was skeptical that Oracle technology would be affordable for a company of Volume’s size.
“There is a perception that Oracle is big and expensive and has no place in a small enterprise,” he recalls. “But we actually found the opposite: Oracle was accessible, and it was affordable.”
Oracle technology also offers Volume an intangible benefit that helps it differentiate itself against tough global competitors. “Clients like the fact that enterprise-level capabilities can be delivered by an agency like ours,” he says. “That gives us a massive amount of credibility.”
Alan Joch (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a technology writer based in New England who specializes in enterprise, Web, and high-performance-computing applications.