Oracle makes grand play for data
- By Dan Caterinicchia, Dan Caterinicchia, John x_Zyskowski
- Jun 05, 2000
Building its case for giving database software a new role in desktop and
server computing — at the expense of the traditional operating system — Oracle Corp. took the wraps off its new Internet File System (iFS) last
While Oracle's database is widely used to store "structured" data — rows and columns of numbers — iFS makes it possible to use the same software
to manage such data as word processing documents, spreadsheets and multimedia
Those "unstructured" files are traditionally stored in desktop and server
operating systems, such as Microsoft Corp.'s Windows family. But iFS improves
on the operating system by storing them in a way that is easily searchable
and provides increased security, according to Oracle. IFS will be available
as a free feature on the Oracle8i database for Windows NT and Sun Microsystems
Although the new software's enhanced file management features have already
won over at least one major government solution provider, iFS is unlikely
in the short term to weaken the grip that desktop- and server-based file
systems have on a large share of agency data.
"The iFS allows you to leverage all the capabilities of a relational
database and store information in industry-standard Windows files," said
Barry Leffew, vice president of Oracle's advanced programs group. "For document
management systems, this could be a replacement for the Windows file system.
You would still use all the applications, but not the file system.... You
can store all data in one integrated environment, with better reliability
But iFS has at least two big hurdles to clear before it poses a serious
threat to companies that already provide file management capabilities via
their operating system software, according to Kevin Plexico, vice president
and chief technology officer at Input, a market research firm.
First, iFS must overcome the tremendous market penetration the OS vendors
already have, particularly Microsoft, in desktop and server computers. To
make the new software more palatable to users accustomed to these systems,
Oracle created a user interface for iFS that closely resembles the Windows
Second, to deploy iFS, the customer must also run the Oracle database.
"This raises the deployment and maintenance cost of the technology significantly,"
Even so, at least one player in the federal market is moving quickly
to adopt the new Oracle file system. General Dynamics Corp.'s electronic
systems division — which produces a World Wide Web-based conferencing system
used by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Air Force and other national
intelligence agencies — will use iFS as the new file system for its product.
General Dynamics' InfoWorkSpace lets people who are geographically dispersed
use the Internet to communicate, collaborate on projects and share information
from a knowledge management database. Participants access the system using
a Web browser and meet in virtual buildings and rooms via the Internet.
IFS will provide InfoWorkSpace with enhanced search functionality. "The
search engine does types of linguistic searches with modeling that are used
to manage documents and summarize large amounts of data," Leffew said. "For
example, an analyst dealing with a lot of open-source information would
be able to summarize and keyword it using iFS."
"In general, our government customers have been pleased because of the
increase in capabilities that come with the database," said Jay McConville,
manager of sales and marketing for collaborative technologies and products
at General Dynamics.
The intelligence and law enforcement communities have shown interest
in platforms that enable the kind of remote collaboration tools offered
by InfoWorkSpace, Leffew said.
Plexico thinks that within the government there will be pockets of support
for iFS, particularly in organizations that are already using Oracle, but
general interest will be limited.
"I don't think it is something most would consider a real replacement
for the Windows file system on a macro level," he said. But, "iFS has the
functionality to support a broader range of file and content types, and
it is accessible through a Web front end. It could bring some valuable organization
to fragmented and disparate file systems," he said.