No confusion over Fusion

Eyebrows were raised when Software giant Oracle revealed its intention to integrate the business solutions of PeopleSoft and JD Edwards with its business suite. Ayman Abouseif explains the thinking behind ‘Project Fusion’ and the threat from competitors

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By  Caroline Denslow Published  October 9, 2005

|~||~||~|There is so much going on with Oracle right now in light of its recent acquisitions. And at the core of it all is Project Fusion, the database giant’s ambitious endeavour to integrate the components of PeopleSoft’s and JD Edwards’ solutions with Oracle’s existing eBusiness suite. Project Fusion is not just about finding a common ground among these three sets of solutions but also about addressing the concerns of its customer base, especially in the midst of SAP’s aggressive effort to lure Oracle’s clients to its fold. Oracle’s newly appointed managing director for the Gulf States, Ayman Abouseif, tells IT Weekly more about what people can expect from Project Fusion, how clients are responding to it, and his feelings about the ongoing competition between Oracle and SAP. ITW: We have seen database vendors expanding their focus to cover middleware. What has brought this trend? AA: I think the database market has reached a certain amount of maturity, and you know, people who do business research will tell you that when you have two or three vendors that hold 60% or 70% market share in a particular industry, the market has reached a certain amount of maturity. That is the case if you look at the database market. You have Oracle in there and a couple of other players. Probably there are around three top players in the database market that own 70-80% market share. This means that the database market is not an easy market to compete in, especially for newcomers because there’s so much investment by vendors, by independent software vendors, by customers, and by people on an individual level in these technologies so it’s considered a mature market. So obviously people want to look for other opportunities to build on their success in the database market. For Oracle we’ve been actively pursuing the application server market for quite some time. People refer to this area differently. Some will call it middleware, while others will call it integration. For us, the middleware, or the Fusion Middleware — which is the new brand we are releasing for the middleware — represents a number of things, including applications integration (or how you integrate multiple applications), better business intelligence, enterprise identity management, J2EE and Java portal, mobile and wireless. All these things sit together in Fusion Middleware. Each one of these things will need certain requirements; however what we’re finding is, for instance, when you go to a customer who requires a portal built for them, and you go there and ask him if he wants to build a portal that is also mobile, and he says yes, then you realise that he might need wireless capabilities for his portal. And if the same customer wants the login username and password for the portal to be unified with the rest of his organisation’s applications, then that opens the door to identity management. Or, what if he wants certain users, when they log in to the portal, to have special access so that they can see specific things that are relevant to them — such as the full data from multiple sources that will provide an overall view of the performance of a department or a division or a group of people that are represented by the portal — then you find that there is business intelligence requirements. So this whole sphere — if you will, areas that I have listed earlier — are, I would refer to as, middleware and the Oracle solution is the “fusion” of these components. Fusion Middleware happens to be the middleware layer that will help the future Project Fusion product, but Fusion middleware is available today. And it represents the five to six areas I mentioned earlier and that’s something that is shipping now. ITW: Can you tell us more about Project Fusion? AA: Project Fusion is the project that we have been working on for some time, which will produce the next generation of enterprise resource planning applications for Oracle and for our customers that will combine the capabilities of Oracle eBusiness suite, JD Edwards and PeopleSoft products. This is our next generation. This is not something that will be available tomorrow; it’s something that will be available gradually in the next three years. In the meantime, we continue to take ideas from Project Fusion and build them into the point releases of Oracle eBusiness suite, JD Edwards and so on so that as we get closer to the date of Project Fusion becoming a product fusion and people became more familiar, a lot of their technology infrastructure would have been migrated already to the Fusion infrastructure. That way, their overall migration becomes much easier. So that’s one side. So, for eBusiness suite, JD Edwards and PeopleSoft, we are talking about three years from now as we start releasing the next generation of our business solutions, which will be different. Between now and then there are other releases that are taking place so the products will not stop here. The products are moving. We are adding features, we are fixing issues, and we are introducing new solution sets, but that does not stop us from looking longer term than just the next six to 12 months. ITW: Have your customers expressed willingness to invest in Project Fusion once the integration of the solutions is completed? AA: It’s always difficult for people to make a decision to move from anything to anything. It’s even difficult to move from one version to another. But at the end of the day, the idea is that we provide so much more business value in the new releases that it will make people say ‘I want this new functionality, I want this new ease of use, I want this new better look and feel, I want this new better capability and I will migrate.’ And in fact, on our web site for quite some time there were statistics about how many of our customers had moved to their latest releases versus how many SAP customers have moved to their latest releases. The numbers were shocking. The reason for that I guess is that we offer value. I don’t know what the others are doing. ITW: There are three principles driving Project Fusion: business insight, adapting and optimising business processes, and integrating PeopleSoft’s Superior Ownership Experience concept. Can you tell us more about the third one? AA: What we wanted to do with Project Fusion was not to technically migrate different pieces of code and try to glue them together. We wanted to start something from a clean sheet, and that gave us an opportunity to take a very serious look at some of the issues that were limiting some of the components of PeopleSoft and JD Edwards from moving forward — whether these are some old pieces of technology or not. Starting from a clean sheet is actually interesting because it allows you to really build the best product you can build. One of the things that PeopleSoft has done really well is the way it manages patching and upgrades, the way it allows people to control their user interface, so it was obvious to us that this was something that customers would like to have or do like to have today with PeopleSoft so it becomes part of our design, which we would continue in the next generation. ITW: SAP has bought TomorrowNow, a software company that provides support services for products sold by the former PeopleSoft and JD Edwards companies to lure former PeopleSoft customers. Do you see this acquisition making significant impact to SAP’s campaign? AA: SAP bought a company that has only about 100 people, and none of these people are based outside the US. How can 100 people support 6000 customers considering all the languages and all the localisations? Granting a customer thinks that moving to SAP because of this acquisition is a better solution for him, well, it’s their call. But at the end of the day, I think we need to go to a deeper level in understanding these things. There are only 100 people there, assuming SAP can keep those people. Besides, these people have no access to the newer versions of the software. So what SAP is really trying to do is to get customers to stop their support agreements with Oracle and get support agreements from SAP and then, one way or the other, force them to migrate to SAP. If I were a customer from Ghana, I’m not sure I will want to rely on a company with 100 people that no longer have access to the JD Edwards code or future upgrades. ITW: What can you say about SAP’s claim that it is leading in the middleware game because it has established third-party alliances with the likes of EMC and Cisco; and that, unlike Oracle it has already started building third-party products? AA: I don’t know why we keep talking about SAP because we don’t see them. You know when I look at our sales pipeline, our middleware, and look at the competitors field, I never see SAP. So SAP seems to be competing with us only in the press. If you are not an SAP customer — you are a non-SAP R3 customer — there is no way on earth that SAP can be able to convince you to adopt its proprietary NetWeaver middleware. I don’t know how on earth it can do that. If you are an SAP R3 customer or a mySAP customer, you would probably be forced to adopt NetWeaver. If you are not an SAP customer, there is no way SAP can convince you to adopt Net-Weaver because it is proprietary. It is designed for SAP, it is not relevant for other people. And it is definitely not in the same league of work Fusion Middleware offers or even some of the other middleware players. If you are an SAP customer, I think you would be forced, at one stage or another, to adopt NetWeaver because it’s going to become a part of the mySAP or R3 offering it has. So SAP can talk as much as it can or wants to. I would like to see two or three of its customers because with Fusion Middleware we are talking about having 400-500 new customers being added every year. I don’t know whether it’s productive for us to talk about SAP at all. ITW: Let’s talk about service-oriented architecture (SOA). Many people are still confused about the concept. In its simplest form, how does SOA work? AA: The idea is that people wanted to separate the layers of software so that it becomes easier for someone to assemble a new application. Let’s say you want to renew your driver’s license. It’s not an actual case here but let’s just say the traffic department wants to, before renewing your driver’s license, make sure you still have a valid residence visa. So they would want to enter your passport number into their system and want that system to kick off their request to the immigration department to check if your visa is still valid, which will then give them the response back — whether it’s yes or no. So in an ideal SOA world, the immigration department will create a service that is compliant with SOA that sits on the internet or extranet that says when you get a visa number or a residence number formatted this way in this context then you check if it is a valid residence number or not and you reply back with a yes or no. It can also be that the same function is also important for updating your health card or maybe your electricity or water billing account. So that’s a typical SOA component that sits within the four walls of the immigration department that can be used by multiple applications. So if all these little components are built using SOA people can create applications that don’t have to do everything on their own. Information can be retrieved or can be verified using a shared service that can be available or made available using SOA without the need for people to actually say “We want to integrate with you. How do we send you the data and how do you send me back the response?” ITW: Does SOA require a certain standard to follow in order for different applications to work together? Wouldn’t there be any integration issues? AA: SOA is a new standard in itself. Everyone can build their components to the standard because there is no problem integrating whatsoever since you already know how to talk to these components. Obviously, the world is not ideal. There will always be bits and pieces that require integration. Today, there are millions of pieces that require integration. It’s a very big piece of the engagement of IT departments to integrate what they have. But there are techniques to take non-SOA compliant service and wrap them into an SOA look-alike interface or allow them to participate to this world. But it’s not the simplest thing to do. Eventually if people want to participate in this world, there’s going to be a lot of rewriting to be done. ITW: Is SOA something that companies should be looking at considering that it would require them to invest in newer applications and architecture before they can fully adopt SOA? AA: If what you have meets your business requirements you don’t have to do anything. The reality is applications go out of date really quickly. Let me tell you something. As people were getting up to Y2K and everybody was spending a lot of money taking their applications compliant with Y2K, a lot of banks spent a lot of money on the core banking systems to make them Y2K compliant. There was a thinking in the core banking market that since everybody spent millions in core banking applications already there will be no more major investments in core banking applications. Today we are in 2005 and there are a lot of big banks around us that are still spending millions in new core banking systems although they spent millions during the Y2K period. I’m not saying that they did anything wrong before but the business requirements between 1999 and 2005 have changed dramatically. Their applications, which they thought by year 2000 will last them 10 to 20 years, are no longer good enough because their business requirements changed. It’s not the technology. By the same token, as business requirements changed, people look at newer architecture to serve these new business requirements. SOA is one of these architectures. ||**||

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