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Oracle’s Business Intelligence Bombshell

Oracle’s new BI suite has an ambitious new vision: one that places Oracle-the-BI-power prominently in the forefront.

Last week, Oracle Corp. unveiled its Business Intelligence Suite, a revamped, enlarged, and Project Fusion-ized version of the erstwhile Oracle Business Intelligence offering. Oracle’s new BI suite is an ambitious release that’s garbed in an ambitious new vision—one that places Oracle-the-BI-power prominently in the forefront, no longer the collegial ecosystem partner of BI pure plays.

In this respect, Oracle’s BI vision also prescribes a 10g database back end, Oracle eBusiness Suite in the application tier, and—of course—Oracle Project Fusion middleware to tie everything together.

This type of sweeping development isn’t without historical precedent. In the 19th Century, the military doctrine of Vernichtungsgedanken helped propel Prussia and an increasingly tight-knit confederation of German states to European martial supremacy. Many historians believe Vernichtungsgedanken had an epiphenomenal effect, too: it was the impetus for the Byzantine system of alliances that plunged first the European main, and then the world, into a conflict called The First World War.

On a lesser scale, and in a different theatre, the same might one day be said about Oracle’s BI push. Based as it is on a homegrown BI stack that includes not just reporting, ETL, OLAP, and data mining features (native to 10g), but also performance management (the former PeopleSoft’s EPM assets, along with Oracle’s own CPM technology) and credible analytics (thanks to Siebel’s own expertise in this area), Oracle’s BI vision has the patina of verisimilitude about it.

Oracle officials think so, at least. What’s more, they argue, Oracle’s expertise in the enterprise applications space gives it a leg up over BI pure-play vendors.

“We understand business process automation because we’re an applications vendor. We understand how to automate business flows across an organization. We understand [these problems] in ways that a pure play BI vendor doesn’t understand, because they don’t necessarily own any of the business processes,” says Jagdish Mirani, senior director of applications marketing with Oracle. “Across the board, in terms of applications and platform, we are in a great position to take those forward and connect those.”

Call it Vernichtungsgedanken, for the pointy-headed set.

The 411

For the record, Oracle’s revamped Business Intelligence Suite comes in three different flavors. The first and least expensive (packaged for SME customers) is Oracle Business Intelligence Suite Standard Edition (SE) One. Available in a two-processor configuration (with support for up to 50 named users), SE One includes the Oracle Standard Edition One Database, Oracle Warehouse Builder ETL, and the Oracle Analytics Server (which is based on Siebel’s analytics technology). It features query, analysis, and dashboard capabilities, and (in some scenarios) could see use in larger shops, too.

“This is targeted for the small and mid-size enterprises, including those cases where companies want to surround a larger Oracle or other database with a number of different departmental data marts,” comments Paul Rodwick, vice-president of BI marketing with Oracle.

The second, Oracle Business Intelligence Suite SE, includes Oracle Discover, Oracle Reports, and a few other complementary tools, Rodwick says. Notably, it does not include Warehouse Builder or Oracle’s Siebel-based analytics technology.

To get the complete package (and have the luxury of running it on larger SMP systems), customers must opt for Oracle’s third and most expensive configuration, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (EE). This package also bundles a Microsoft Office add-in, which lets organizations tap Excel, Word, and other Office applications as BI front-end tools.

“This is appropriate for customers [who] have enterprise-wide BI needs—customers that are very heterogeneous,” Rodwick explains. “It can support a heterogeneous mix of data sources, including Oracle, PeopleSoft, Siebel, J.D. Edwards, and SAP applications.”

In Praise of All-in-One-Best-of-Breed

The platform visions of Business Objects SA, Cognos Inc., and other vendors have fueled controversy in the BI space. There’s a reason for that: the all-in-one platform play flies in the face of the BI status quo, which—until recently, anyway—was dominated by best-of-breed or point solutions. Even now, with Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion Solutions Corp., SAS Institute Inc., and others touting the convenience, flexibility, and cost savings of the all-in-one BI platform, not everyone believes best-of-breed is marked for Dodo-dom.

Oracle’s response to this is characteristically cheeky. Not only do Rodwick and other officials champion what they argue are the best-of-breed attributes of Oracle’s own BI technology stack, but they also expand the concept of the BI platform to include the database, applications, and attendant middleware.

If Vernichtungsgedanken (German shorthand for “annihilation thinking”) emphasizes envelopment and fluid attack, preferably with overwhelming numbers, Oracle’s BI vision offers an extra-military case in point.

“What we really announced as the vision and philosophy for pulling all of this together is that Oracle Business Intelligence Suite is the most comprehensive [offering], filled with best-of-breed components, that it’s hot-pluggable and open to all environments, whether those be various enterprise applications, or installed databases and data warehouses, or existing BI tools or security environment—really anything that is available in our customers’ IT architectures,” Rodwick argues.

He continues: “It’s even better together as a suite, so if a customer selects from many or all of the different Oracle products—from the database through the Oracle BI suite, Oracle Fusion middleware, and Oracle applications—then that gives a unique lowest TCO and a highly integrated, highly scalable experience.”

So on the one hand, it certainly seems that Rodwick and other officials are taking an exclusively Oracle, Oracle Everywhere line. In a couple of other respects, however, Oracle’s BI vision departs from that strategy. “One of the very important things we talked about was a clear market trend to be open to all of the different environments that exist in our customer base. One of the very nice capabilities that came to Oracle from Siebel is the ability to work with federated databases, and across a wide range of Oracle and non-Oracle systems and technology. That’s a clear market requirement in the BI industry,” Rodwick says.

This is also something of a departure from Oracle’s highly centralized data management vision, he concedes. “What we see with BI is there’s a market need to be able to leverage all of the different legacy systems that are already in place so that companies can have an insight layer that crosses all of their different operational systems and provides immediate value,” he says. What’s more, Rodwick said, the Oracle 10g database itself isn’t an absolute requirement for the Oracle Business Intelligence Suite.

“A majority of customers are using the oracle database, but as we mentioned in the announcement, it’s also open to and optimized for DB2, SQL Server, and Teradata, so the notion of being hot-pluggable is that customers can select the database functionality they wish [and] the end-user tools they wish. They can leverage Microsoft Office as a front-end BI environment,” he asserts. “In the Siebel business analytics experience, over three-quarters of the customers did use the product in a more enterprise context, bringing together data from a rich variety of systems beyond Siebel.”

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend

One real-world consequence of Prussian military dominance was that it encouraged weaker powers to ally with one another. In the same way, an increasing number of BI players are taking their cue from a geopolitical maxim (namely, the Pashtun notion that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”) and allying themselves with, or at least cozying up to, Oracle’s arch-rival, SAP.

We’ve described an example of this phenomenon in a related article this week, and, in a follow-up piece, we’ll put the question more explicitly to the BI pure plays: do you share a common enemy with SAP?

Stay tuned…

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at [email protected].

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