Oracle9i adds oomph with server support

Like other enterprises, many federal agencies want to use clusters of smaller, less expensive computers to do the same job that used to require one big, expensive system. With the official release two weeks ago of its Oracle9i Database, Oracle Corp. is delivering a database that makes it far easier for agencies to run their commercial off-the-shelf software on these clusters, analysts say.

That feature, plus a more favorable pricing structure that replaces a controversial licensing plan put in place last year, will make Oracle9i an attractive option for federal agencies, said Tracy Corbo, a senior analyst for online computing infrastructure with Cahners In-Stat Group. "The timing is really good because people are more finicky about how they're spending money," she said. "This is a way to add capacity very cost-effectively."

By using Oracle's new Real Application Clusters software, an optional module for the new Oracle9i database, agencies can run commercial software packages from vendors such as People-Soft Inc. and SAP AG on Unix and Microsoft Corp. Windows-based server clusters without making any changes to the software, Oracle officials say.

"The reason we called the product "Real' Application Clusters is because you can run real-world software that's widely available on it," said Tim Hoechst, senior vice president of technology for Oracle Service Industries, the division that focuses on the federal market. Oracle previously offered a form of clustering technology called Parallel Server, but it could be used "only for custom-written applications developed for it," Hoechst said.

Clustering allows information technology shops to increase application performance by adding new servers as transaction volumes grow. It also improves overall application reliability by directing other computers in the cluster to take over if one node in the cluster fails.

One of the key tests for the new Oracle database will be the ease with which users can add servers to the cluster. Current approaches to clustering typically involve time-consuming efforts, such as reprogramming software and redistributing data across the cluster, when adding new servers. Oracle claims that the process with Oracle9i will be far easier. At least one customer agreed.

"We think it's going to be a straightforward process," said Orin Merrill, vice president of Science Applications International Corp. Company officials have done a "pretty close technical examination" of Oracle9i, he said, and plan to upgrade to the software within the next three months for a transportation- management application the company hosts for customers. SAIC also sells a traditional license for the same software to the Energy Department and will recommend that the agency upgrade to Oracle9i, he said.

Oracle will now charge customers a per-processor fee for database licenses, similar to the pricing model used by other database vendors. The core enterprise edition of the Oracle9i software costs $40,000 per processor, not including optional modules such as clustering. The standard edition, which doesn't support options such as clustering, will cost $15,000 per processor.

The previous pricing plan that drew the ire of some customers used a measurement called Universal Power Unit to determine the license price. With UPU, the price was related to the number and speed of the processors in the servers that ran the Oracle database.

Although he has not done a formal comparison yet to determine an exact figure, Mike Schiff, a vice president with the market research firm Current Analysis, said the new pricing scheme will lower the price that many agencies will pay for the Oracle software.

Oracle Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison said at Oracle9i's unveiling that the com.pany developed the revised pricing model in response to customer pressure and to make it easier to compare Oracle's and its competitors' prices. Even though Oracle's new per-processor prices are still higher than IBM Corp.'s, for example, he said Oracle's database contains more functionality and costs less to operate.

However, buyers should be careful when comparing costs. "Users should not assume that everything they need is part of that $40,000 [Oracle9i core license] — it's not," Schiff said. "The clustering option, for example, costs an additional $20,000 per processor. That said, you're probably still getting good value. The headroom that clusters get you is significant. And when you come right down to it, you're trying to get the job done. Price isn't the key factor."

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