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Feature: Why Oracle 8i Will Re-Model the OS Landscape
Databases By Paul on Monday November 09, @11:46AM
The i is for Internet!

Database giant Oracle is scheduled to release Oracle 8i tomorrow. This release is strategically very important to Oracle, because the "i" features include iFS file-serving, which leads to a de-commoditization of the operating system. An early article is at Infoworld, and I've written an editorial on why this development is important below. Take a look by clicking the "Read more..." link.
1998.11.16 Update: Oracle has announced plans and strategy for de-commoditizing the OS; I guess I was right. Read the on top of IT story about the announcement, and check out the coverage at News.com.

By Paul Vallée
Oracle Database Technology Consultant
The Pythian Group.

Why iFS is a weapon

iFS is a weapon against Microsoft. It's also a weapon against almost every other OS vendor except for Linux, and in fact it will help out Linux substantially. We all know that the leaders of the two largest software companies in the world, Microsoft and Oracle, hate each other's guts. We understand that the "network computing" model that Ellison, and now Mitchell Kertzman too, is promoting is essentially a thrust against the single-platform Wintel monopoly. So where does iFS play into this scenario?

Store your files in the database!

Big deal, you may say. So I can store my Word documents, my spreadsheets, my Framemaker layouts in the database. I can already store them on the file server. What does this do for me?

Well, imagine if you could simply request the database for the version of your document that existed on May 12th? You can't do that with a file server. Imagine if you could see the audit trail of every person who has examined or modified your document in the last six weeks. Forget it with a file server. Imagine if you wanted to automatically notify other users, update links, or generate some data every time you accessed, or modified a file? There's just no way with a file server.

Operating systems? Who needs them?

Oracle, with Oracle 8i, will have totally superseded the functionality of the traditional OS.

Role-based access management is years ahead of traditional OS user management. In Oracle, you can abstract particular privileges behind an operational role. Try doing that in an OS.

Enterprise-quality backup and recovery. With Oracle 8's new backup management features, Oracle has moved ahead of even the most advanced 3rd-party backup tools; let alone the ones bundled with DEC Unix or Windows NT. Oracle's backup and recovery tools will let you know exactly which tape you need to insert in what order to restore your database, and fast. With traditional OSs, this is when you panic.

Web serving. I should hardly mention it, but Oracle's web and application servers have a lot of good things going for them, enough to leverage many synergies of working with the Oracle toolset, not least of which is PL/SQL in your server apps.

Finally, file serving. Of course lots of corporate information is stored in relational databases. No corporation is going to store their HR database in a Wordperfect doc. And yet, lots and lots of corporate information is right now stored in files; just plain documents kept on shared drives on an NT server somewhere. So what's the next step? Store those files in Oracle too. Mount an Oracle database as a shared network drive. Save your files to that drive just like you normally would. Read from it just like you normally would. Instantly, any feature needed can be developed, like audit management, scriptable actions through triggers, complex workflow access schemes like token-based file access, anything the imagination can come up with.

Commoditize vs. De-commoditize

Many readers have written to suggest that I am using the wrong terminology here. When I originally wrote this document, I used "commoditize" everywhere, with my intended meaning of turning the OS into a commodity, like grain, that can be purchased from any number of providers and for which one supplier's product can not be differentiated from any other. This led to some confusion, and so I amended the document to read "de-commoditize", with the intended meaning of robbing the OS of any value by supplying the features with the database. Whichever interpretation of "commoditize" or "de-commoditize" you prefer, I hope that with this introductory paragraph my meaning in this document is clear.

De-commoditize the operating system.

In the Halloween Memos leaked from Microsoft, we find out that its strategy in dealing with Linux has to do with de-commoditizing open-standard protocols by superseding them with proprietary alternatives. Good strategy, a little underhanded, but, legal issues aside, if you've got a monopoly to build it on, it just might work.

Oracle's strategy with iFS is to de-commoditize the entire server operating system in one fell swoop. No more need for paying the annual NT licenses, or for keeping critical corporate documents on unstable, untrustworthy Intel architectures. IT shops right now have super-speedy redundant-clustered DEC UNIX or Sun Solaris boxen with enormous disk arrays running Oracle. And right alongside them, they have Compaq dual-Pentium NT servers used to serve shared filesystems. With Oracle 8i, they can throw the Compaq out. Just use iFS to serve the files—all of a sudden you only need the one server, you only need the one Oracle license, you don't need NT. You have all of the features you used to have with NT, and way more, and you don't have to give Microsoft a dime anymore. Never mind the additional stability of your cluster solution, never mind the single backup strategy and single disaster recovery strategy where before you needed two. It just makes sense.

Enter the dragon: Linux

It should come as no surprise that an OS is still needed for Oracle to run on top of. However, that OS doesn't really get called on to do much more than the basic OS features, such as core security, memory management and disk management. As such, there's not much value in paying SCO, Digital, Sun, or Microsoft the multi-$1000 per year they normally require for these OS licenses. Who's the obvious winner? Linux. Because it's good (best of breed UNIX, according to the Microsoft Halloween documents), and because it's free. If you're not looking to the OS to provide a lot of value, and a lot of features, you're not going to be willing to spend a lot of money on it, thus the good, free OS wins.

I predict that during this Oracle Open World week, we'll see Oracle announce some major initiatives with regards to Linux. We've seen some hints of this already, with a Linux beta of Oracle 8i floating around, and with some rumblings in the UK about an Oracle distro, or even Oracle-brand corporate support for Linux. it's 11:30 ET on the 8th as I write, and we'll soon know if I'm right or wrong.

I'm calling it Linux and Oracle in the enterprise.

That's where the smart money is. What can NT do to compete with the features that Oracle coupled with Linux can provide? I invite those who may disagree, or who can add to this conversation, to post here with short comments or to submit a dissenting editorial if you like. The more I think about Oracle and Linux in the enterprise, the more I'm sure. Think about it.


The Microsoft Halloween documents seem to give the impression that Microsoft is afraid that IBM could go ahead and do this. I don't think they will, although they might. But I think Microsoft is looking to old enemies of days gone by instead of to current enemies for threats. Oracle is going to be the one to mount this particular offense, in my humble opinion.

1998.11.10 Update: Changed "commoditize" to "de-commoditize" everywhere after a reader pointed out the obvious error. Thanks to Edward Avis.
1998.11.14 Various cosmetic modifications.
1998.11.17 Discussed my intended meaning of de-commoditize.

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Oracle 8i
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Oracle 8I
by Kimo () on Monday November 09, @02:53PM
I have to offer my full support to the prospect of this Oracle-Linux combination.
[Reply to this comment]

DataLinks in DB2 UDB
by Inderpal Narang (narang@almaden.ibm.com) on Monday November 09, @04:59PM
IBM shipped a technology called DataLinks in DB2 UDB 5.2 in 9/25/98 which we believe is superior to iFS for management of file data through a database. The technology is superior since it does NOT require files to be imported (or exported) into (from) the database. The goal is - Leave the files in the filesystem but manage it from referential integrity (a database referenced file cannot be deleted or renamed), coordinated backup and recovery (recover database data along with the correct version of the file), and
optionally database rule based access control to the files.
The white paper which explains the technology is available at www.software.ibm.com/data/pubs/papers/datalink.htm

[Reply to this comment]

No Subject Given
by Gene Kligerman (kligermn@ca.ibm.com) on Monday November 09, @06:01PM
"As such, there's not much value in paying SCO, Digital,Sun, or Microsoft the multi-1000$ per year they normally require for these OS licenses. Who's the obvious winner? Linux"

Umm. Afraid not, though you came close (the name "Larry" also starts with an "L"). All you are saying is replace one monopolist by another (just give Larry Ellison a chance). There must be a reason why he is the richest man in California :-)

Obviously you weren't at the last IOUG conference in Orlando (last May) where one woman working for the government almost started crying when she asked Oracle's Lane what she is supposed to do now that her budget has been cut but the Oracle reps she talked to refused to reduce the license fees (and she was hardly talking dimes -- she mentioned a figure of around $1 million).

By the way, you obviously haven't looked at pricing of system configurations (take a look at any TPC-D benchmark summary at http://www.tpc.org). The first thing you ought to notice is that the cost of the operating system in that situation is totally irrelevant (at least for the server, not the client). The big bucks are for server hardware, disk storage, and (surprise!) database management software.


P.S. I work for IBM, so I can't claim to be totally objective. The above represents my own personal view as opposed to that of my employer.
[Reply to this comment]

by Michael Crump (mcrump@ballfoster.com) on Monday November 09, @10:25PM
I'm not sure about a feature/function comparison but Oracles product still sounds a lot like Universal Data Base. The functionality of it sounds very nice but it seems a bit far fetched to paint it as a Microsoft killer.....Instead of paying gobs of money to Microsoft we may end up paying more to Oracle, despite the free OS.

You have Oracle with it's approach, you have IBM with UDB on multiple systems, and you have Microsoft hinting at the inclusion of certain data base features within the operating sysytem. It could get kind of interesting or this hype might be a little premature.
[Reply to this comment]

Oracle vs Microsoft
by Ben Teco (ben@teco.net) on Monday November 09, @11:30PM
I think it was already a foregone conclusion that NT will fail as a successful server OS. Linux is hammering the low end on price. Oracle's announcement may mean that it can hammer the high end on features.

This is good news for Linux. Sure, Oracle is no more a benevolent master than Microsoft is. But whatever Oracle 8i contains can no doubt be cloned in some free database like Postgres SQL. At the moment, anything that hacks at MS is good for free software. In the future Oracle may be the big enemy, but that day has not yet come. If you hate them now, use Postgres and be happy.
[Reply to this comment]

iFS in Oracle 8i
by Eric Sedlar () on Tuesday November 10, @01:26AM
A key differentiator between Oracle & Microsoft:

* Oracle has never forced proprietary standards on customers, which is why Oracle has viable competitors, preserving customer choice. iFS supports HTTP, FTP, IMAP4, SMTP, POP3, and SMB (Microsoft's file sharing protocol), allowing you to use your existing clients

Also, I should point out that iFS, like the rest of the database, is an application development platform first, and an application (fileserver, content management system, etc.) second. Focusing on iFS as a replacement for an NT fileserver misses the main point of iFS. Your corporate applications (bug database, project management, etc.) can make their data accessible via standard clients (have a folder in Outlook or on a mounted drive in Explorer called "MyBugs" with all the bugs you need to validate--a folder that is really a SQL query).

-- Eric Sedlar
Sr. Director of Development
Internet Filesystem (iFS) Group
Oracle Corporation
[Reply to this comment]

by Ed Avis (epa98@doc.ic.ac.uk) on Tuesday November 10, @07:14AM
There was a small mistake in this article: Microsoft wishes to de-commoditize protocols by adding closed, proprietary features, not commoditize them.

Things which are commodities can be bought from many different sellers, and are almost identical whichever seller you buy from. This, of course, is what Microsoft has successfully fought against for the last fifteen years.
[Reply to this comment]

NT unreliable in enterprise scenario
by Freddy Wissing (fargo@mail.eclipse.net) on Tuesday November 10, @08:50AM
The numerous security flaws, poor performance, and closed standards of NT will be its downfall. Microsoft can use proprietary protocols if they wish, but I doubt they can convince the global community of the internet to do so.

Linux was born on the internet, evolves and improves at a rate geometrically faster than microsoft, and works. The Oracle server engine runs fantastically on Linux, and is described by all as being significantly faster than on NT. If I were Oracle, I'd announce that I was "sunsetting" Oracle on NT, and offer Linux as a preferred platform. Even if they don't, it would be fun. I'm still amazed that a man as wealthy as Bill Gates still insists on cutting his own hair.

Freddy Wissing
[Reply to this comment]

Oracle has a good database but thats all
by Network Wizard (wizardcne@yahoo.com) on Tuesday November 10, @12:11PM
You forget to mention in your article that MSFT controls over 85% of all Office documents including Excel, Word, and Powerpoint. This will not change nor will the operating systems on the client side. I also expect there will still be file/print servers on NT 5 and even SQL 7 database servers. Yes Oracle has a good idea of putting all the documents in the database, but just because it thought up the idea 1st doesn't mean that if it catches on, MSFT will not do something similar in a future release of SQL.
[Reply to this comment]

what about BeOS?
by Carlos M. Fernandez (drag_on@hotmail.com) on Wednesday November 11, @09:50AM
I don't know if you ever see the spec sheets for software packages, but BeOS already manages files through a database. It actually uses a database as its native filesystem, so that all applications get to benefit from it (a big benefit is that file searches are lightning-fast).
[Reply to this comment]

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