Oracle Corp. last week at Internet World gave a bear hug to Sun Microsystems Inc.'s platform-independent Java programming language by announcing broad support for it across its product line, including the new J/SQL database access protocol.
But in the wake of the Redwood Shores, Calif., company's big Java splash, company officials can't seem to stop talking about another database product: Informix Software Inc.'s Universal Database, set to ship this month.
Oracle officials have been publicly sounding the alarm on the safety of the Informix approach to managing complex data in its database with DataBlades, modules that plug into the Informix Universal Server engine to let it handle data types such as audio, video and images.
Informix has signed a host of third-party developers to write DataBlades, and the Menlo Park, Calif., company expects more than 200 DataBlades will ship by the end of next year.
Oracle's crusade continued this week with Jerry Held, Oracle's senior vice president for server technologies, working the phones to talk with users, analysts and reporters.
Held's message: The proper way to support objects is the Oracle NCA way: through its CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture)-based Network Computing Architecture middleware layer of "cartridges" for handling complex data and with Oracle-built extensions inside the Oracle8 kernel.
Held insisted DataBlades could crash Informix's Universal Database and affect mission-critical computing, although he could not supply PC Week with any examples of such occurrences. Time, he said, will prove him right.
Informix officials have heard the Oracle charges. CEO Phil White addressed the issue in a recent interview with PC Week. "We've got 1,500 installations of Illustra, each of which is running one to many DataBlades," he said. "We have yet to find one instance of data corruption. So I think Oracle has to find something bad. ..."
White pointed out that DataBlades have been in use for several years as part of the Illustra Server, which Informix acquired when it bought Illustra Information Technologies Inc. in 1995. Informix officials have also said the company will submit each third-party DataBlade to a quality assurance process to make sure the code is safe.
Some observers wonder why Oracle is so concerned about the Informix product, since, ultimately, it would be to Oracle's advantage if the Informix Universal Server disappoints users.
"They're very concerned that Informix might be defining the market by getting out there first with a real product. Oracle needs to buy some time because it's late with [its own object-relational database] Oracle8," said Stan Dolberg, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. "Companies want to get started building this new generation of applications that involve more than relational data, and Oracle is worried that the Informix Universal Server might get established as the 'new age' database."
Held contends that Oracle already has a "universal" database in Oracle7 7.3, which comes with several options for supporting some complex data. But Oracle7 7.3 is not truly extensible by the ISV community the way the Informix database is, Dolberg said.
"Oracle7 7.3 is a good relational database, but it doesn't begin to offer what companies are going to need to build this new generation of applications," he said.