Wednesday 14 February 2007

Cheers to Mr Price

I have to say a big thanks to Mr Nick Price for his many kind words on his blog: . I have known Nick since .... well lets just say he got me my first job in Oracle, so you can all blame him!

Nick is one of the outstanding leaders in the Oracle recruitment space. His company, Bright Purple (formally CareerCare) is one of the leading IT recruitment specialists in the UK.

Keep an eye on Nick and BrightPurple - 2007 is going to be a very good year for them both!

Sunday 11 February 2007

Secure Enterprise Search - A decent solution at last?

For many years Oracle has been trying to play in the enterprise search space - but lets be honest, it has never really had a product as open as customers would have liked. Ultrasearch was its previous incarnation and if you had content in an oracle database or a website it could index then you were ok - if you did not then, to be honest, it was not really a great deal of use.

However, all that may be changing. Oracle has used its 15+ years of technologies such as Oracle Text, Intermedia, Ultrasearch, Collaboration suite and has now developed Secure Enterprise Search 10g, which they believe is a product that can search pretty much ALL of your content - file systems, emails, content management systems. And if an interface does not exist - you can build it and plug it in. Result!

Oracle are playing on the need for governance of data within an organisation and the explosion of content - both structure and un-structured that an enterprise needs to deal with these days.

There is a fair amount of information available from Oracle OTN but here is a summary

There are 5 key components:

  • A crawler - A time initiated Java process
  • A database - to store the results (come on it is Oracle after all!) from the crawler and index using Oracle Text.
  • A search UI and API - a web service based approach for integration and customisation
  • Admin Tool - Web based administration of crawler schedules, server config, reporting etc
  • Federator - This is one of the key changes as this allows the engine to federate queries to other engines to implement their own search - such as email servers (or indeed other SES engines).

The application runs in Oracle's J2EE engine, OC4J.

Architecturally there are some issues with this current release. Oracle will only support the configuration where the web server and SES database are on the same machine. Not very flexible or scalable. In principle they agree that they can be seperated but Oracle support will not give you support if you do. I doubt that position will last long - it cant if organisations are going to put Secure Oracle Search as a critical part of their technology fabric as it will not be easily deployed into a standard Oracle HA and DR infrastructure. However, there are work arounds for all these things (as ever) and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

Secure access to information is handled by a single-sign on infrastructure where it is available and application specific where not - this was, and still will be I suspect a major issue when getting access to systems. From experience do not underestimate what is required to get a robust architecture in place to deal with secure searching.

As per most Oracle technology - SES uses Oracle Internet Directory for its Single Sign On (SSO) infrastructure. This can then synchronise with the likes of Active Directory to provide Single sign on across the enterprise. Until Oracle get the Oblix and Thor products they acquited last year or so fully integrated then this will still remain clunky. Also be warned that the SSO approach using Oracle Internet Directory and even Oracle's other products, such as the eBusiness Suite, can still be bug ridden and subject to the great Oracle patching cycle. This is a relatively new product (its been beta tested within Oracle for while) that is being let loose on a heterogeneous world - patching will be a way of life.

There are lots of connector available for SES including some of the Oracle ones you would expect, but the real power starts to come out with its integration to the Suits (eBusinessSuite and Seibel) and to 3rd party Content Management Systems. Some of the connectors available are (to quote Oracle):

  • Portals - SES connectors can crawl OracleAS Portal instances, Documentum eRoom and Microsoft Sharepoint Server.
  • Content Management Systems . SES connectors are also available to crawl and search EMC Documentum Content Engine, Opentext Livelink, Hummingbird DM, Filenet, IBM DB2 Content Manager.
  • Applications . SES can connect to an Application, crawl its business objects and make them searchable. Application specific authorization models are supported via plug-ins. SES provides connectors to certain specific modules of Oracle.s EBusiness Suite and Siebel CRM.

So has Oracle got a good solution? Well time will tell. All I know is that Oracle's strategy of opening up its toolsets and accepting that they operate in a world where there is more than Oracle implemented is leading to some interesting new products. Personally I think this is a great move but one that could be damaged before it takes off..... why? Cost!

Oracle SES is $30K per processor (although it can be licenced per individual also subject to minimums) which is not too bad (in an Oracle pricing sense!). However the connector pricing is also $30K PER CONNECTOR!!!! Including the eBusinessSuite Connector! Suddenly the solutions could become very expensive and as a solution architect I need to take this into account when designing solutions for my customers.

I have worked with Oracle for many years and they have some of the best products on the market (CDH for example) - however the pricing models they use still manages to suprise me, the customers and the marketplace. Such a potentially great piece of technology could be killed by price (not for the first time at Oracle!).

As ever, Oracle list prices do need to be taken with a pinch of salt. A sales cycle would not be the same without some negotiation - and Oracle Q4 is just around the corner - so if you are interested in SES the next few months may be a good time to buy!

Mark Rittman and BI

For those of you who have not yet passed Mark Rittman on the web I would recommend you have a look at his excellent Blog @

Mark is an Oracle Global Ace for BI. He is currently head of consulting at a BI specialist
SolstonePlus but goes independent at the end of the month - We all wish Mark the best of luck.

I have worked with Mark on several projects over the past few years and he is one of the best in the business.

If you are looking for an Oracle BI specialist then I would recommend you get in touch with Mark at:

Saturday 10 February 2007

The Fabric of Technology

All major vendors are after it, the middleware battleground lines are drawn and the technology fabric layers are evolving - Integration is BIG again with the open standards available through SOA (I won't mention SOA 2.0!).

Oracle's SOA suite along with new product offerings such as Web Centre and Secure Enterprise Search are the latest weapons Oracle is deploying in the war against Microsoft, BEA and IBM. Oracle also now preaches the gospel according to "Hot Pluggable", but obviously wants its customers to buy wall to wall Oracle. Are Oracle's products any good? Is this new approach sensible?

Oracle is desperately trying to move away from being seen as a proprietary technology company - Oracle Forms, Reports, Applications Interconnect, and towards an organsation which drives innovation through Service Oriented Architecture and web services. By doing so it is changing how it interacts and sells its products to its customers.

Let's all be perfectly honest - which of us live in a world that is 100% dominated by one vendor, we all have real reasons for using multiple technologies and vendor solutions within our organisations. Why? Simply because no vendor has a complete answer - nor should they ever be allowed to, it would stifle competition and innovation.

Oracle's approach to open up its middleware platform and more importantly the next release of their applications suite - Oracle Fusion Applications due in 2008/09 is a critical and smart move. It keeps its existing customers loyal by giving them increased flexibility to integrate and grow and allows organisations to buy best of breed solutions that meet their BUSINESS need. The dog is back wagging its tail!

Oracle's acquisition strategy over the past few years has been (generally!) very well thought through. They have bought many of the best of breed vendors: Seibel for CRM, Peoplesoft for HR, Oblix and Thor for Identity management etc. All of this is key for them moving forward into a heterogeneous world where organisations use multiple technologies and platforms.

What is Oracle's vision? Well Larry Ellison once had an internal broadcast in which he stated that in a few years there would be only 3 main technology vendors: Oracle, Microsoft and IBM, and there would be only 2 main Application Suite vendors: Oracle and SAP. Guess what - his vision is almost here.

What do you think? Do you think Oracle's product strategy is sound? Is it good for customers? What about their pricing models - always a bone of contention?