Blogger: Craig Roth
Oracle's analyst summit in mid-June provided a good look at their plans for Fusion Middleware 11g and WebCenter (released July 1st for download; see summary of features here). Now that we're out of non-disclosure mode (and into "please disclose!" mode) I'd like to share my high-level impressions. They covered a ton of stuff, but my view is biased towards my coverage area of portals with connections to search, productivity, and collaboration. Other Burton Group analysts were also in attendance from our Identity and Privacy Strategies team and our Application Platform Strategies team (see Anne Thomas Manes' thoughts here).
First, although Oracle owns 4 portal products, all the portal-related time was spent on WebCenter. Sure, other portals were mentioned in bullets as examples of how they can plug in (or consume WebCenter's social software), but it was clear WebCenter is the leading actor here (and supporting actor in the stories of the SOA, identity, and enterprise application teams). This confirms what I (and Oracle) has been saying: that WebCenter is the primary portal and that the other 3 (Oracle Portal, WebLogic Portal, and WebCenter Interaction née Plumtree) will be supported and have their die-hard fans but will not be best for new portal projects.
It was helpful to hear Oracle frame its collaboration/portal/search/productivity/social software ambitions in relation to Microsoft SharePoint. For all its plusses and minuses, SharePoint provides a common point of reference against which to measure. They described how they line up with SharePoint as an alternative, can coexist with it, and where they surpass it. This is what IBM should have done with Quickr+Connections at Lotusphere.
As with SharePoint, WebCenter provides an impressive set of functions in one box. There is often better integration between WebCenter and other Oracle assets (like their applications and development tools) than Microsoft where other groups can sometimes get away with ignoring what the SharePoint and Office group does.
There are numerous SharePoint analogies in WebCenter. From conversations with the execs there I found that some are intentional and in other cases they say SharePoint copied them (well, copied AquaLogic User Interaction)!
- Business Dictionary as a role based catalog of information assets. Seems like SharePoint's Business Data Catalog. This should be an interesting battle since SharePoint's BDC is clearly a version 1.0 work-in-progress and Oracle has a lot of expertise to bring here being a database company at heart.
- Federated search. 'Nuff said.
- Office integration. Clients I speak with expect Microsoft will always have the best Office integration, but there are cases where Microsoft's internal silos or some good ideas can expose openings. Oracle showed a nice Word sidebar for document management that had people, versions, etc.
- Slide sorter. This was a neat feature that SharePoint offered, but Oracle's version seems to leapfrog it. They demoed picking all the slides for a sales deck. Oracle calls this a "folio" or compound document. Oracle acquired a neat little company called "Outside In" that has sophisticated filters for productivity files. Blending this into Web Center can provide for some good Office integration.
Oracle did a fine job of acknowledging the need to work with SharePoint and others. But the meat boils down to their WSRP producer running on .NET, selective metadata consumption, and Ensemble (a reverse proxy solution). Hopefully this gets beefed up with more programmatic integration, discovery tools, and guidance so it requires less reliance on WSRP.
Of all the competitors, WebCenter is the newest architecture from the ground up. Being the youngest has its advantages. Since WebCenter is newly architected it feels like it more seamlessly integrates new concepts like tagging, linking, social connections, and REST services than IBM and MSFT where it's more bolted on. So they're better at utilizing these features across the suite that Microsoft and a little bit better than IBM.
But will Oracle - the whole company - give WebCenter the resources it needs to win the marketplace(not just the resources required to be a good and useful product)? In the Q&A session, Oracle President Charles Phillips said there are "No plans to have middleware broken out in reporting. We have lots of product lines, we're getting more with Sun... " This hits at the perennial knock on Oracle's efforts around knowledge infrastructure - lack of push and commitment. Oracle did talk about how much revenue Fusion pulled in, the growth rate, penetration, etc. That would indicate the company would have to care. But still, Microsoft manages to report on four breakouts (Client, Server and Tools, Online Services Business, Microsoft Business Division, Entertainment and Devices Division). Oracle sticks to two (Applications, Database and Middleware). Sun will add at least one more (servers and hardware). If Oracle is dedicated to the enormous space between enterprise apps and the database, breaking out middleware from the database would be a great way to track and prove this commitment.