ENTERPRISE APPLICATIONS/ORACLE 9i: From Web to Wireless

Even before m-commerce really takes off in the market, the enabling
technologies have to be put in place——that is what Oracle would have us
believe. Best known for its robust database that forms the core of many large
businesses, Oracle is now gearing up to take web content to the wireless world.
The wireless edition of the Oracle9i Application Server, which was launched in
the Indian market in January this year, is particularly meant for businesses
walking the m-enablement road. Targeted at telecom carriers, consumer portals,
application providers and other enterprises, 9i AS is equipped to wirelessly
enable almost any source, be it a website, database or application.

"It is important for us to keep up with emerging technologies. When the
Internet took off, we decided to re-engineer all our products based on
client-server technology to become web-enabled…but subsequently, they had to
become wireless-enabled. We had to find a middle-tier technology that could do
it for us, otherwise it would have taken years to convert. In that vein, 9i AS
was born of our own needs," explains Shekhar Dasgupta, country manager,
Oracle India.

The market drivers

While experts feel this will be a routine evolution for the huge number of
organizations already using the Oracle database, some also believe the company
can take advantage in that the entire application server market is flourishing
in the current period of e-commerce. According to the Yankee Group, the wireless
market worldwide is expected to grow to 1.2 billion subscribers by 2003.

By cashing on this boom, Oracle hopes to strengthen its position in the area
of infrastructure software. Oracle’s experience and stability in this area
should be an advantage factor. The company has a strong presence as a major
provider of enterprise software and services. 9i AS is especially desirable for
organizations that already use multiple Oracle databases and for integration of
heterogeneous systems.

In the wireless age, portals will not be accessed only through traditional
web browsers, but from a range of mobile devices which 9i AS technology promises
you. It includes pre-built adapters for wireless e-mail and directory
integration, as well as enhanced support for location-based services, the key
technology for creating the next generation of wireless commerce and logistical
applications that deliver personalized services based on the user’s current
location. It is based on the spatial technology, which is already in use around
the world for managing large volumes of highly specialized geographic data.

The new services would include geo-coding, which taps into a wireless network
that tracks the location of mobile devices to produce coordinates for street
addresses, routing for mapping and directions and distance relationships between
businesses. For instance, a person using an application powered by this product
can step off a plane and immediately receive directions and locations for the
nearest car rental agencies, hotels and restaurants using his mobile phone.

Competing with complexity

According to Oracle, its competing products such as IBM’s wireless
middle-ware offer only simple conversion of HTML web content to wireless format
against 9i’s pre-built adapters that can allow you to quickly m-enable. A
typical web server can serve between 10 and 100 requests per second, forcing
many e-businesses to purchase tens or even hundreds of servers to support high
traffic. Oracle claims that by using web cache as part of the infrastructure, it
allows you to support many more users.

Gaurav Varma, marketing manager, Oracle9i explains that Oracle’s ‘portlet’
technology provides a useful framework for aggregating applications and business
information into a portal. Portlets are reusable interface components that
provide access to web-based resources. "By creating employee portals,
supplier portals or customer portals, you can tailor customer information into
different product groups," he says.

Although Oracle 9i AS is being considered as one of the top application
servers in the industry, Gartner analysts say it is still not as pervasive in
enterprise production deployment as is commonly believed. While Oracle’s
solution is extremely flexible, extensive and built on open standards, it also
is fairly complex.

According to Gartner analysts, competitive niche products offer
easier-to-use, packaged applications. Oracle’s solution requires a great deal
of customization to take advantage of its significant capabilities. This makes
9i AS slow to implement. The complexity must be decreased so that developers get
it up and running and turn it around to implement Oracle’s vertical
applications.

Besides the technical hitches, the Indian market, in particular, is at a far
too nascent stage in the mobile segment. Problems like infrastructure and
bandwidth make the spread of m-commerce a highly debatable issue. So, Oracle
might have to wait a while before the Indian enterprise moves from web to
wireless.

Shweta Verma in New Delhi

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