Historical notes on software titan Oracle (once called Relational Software, Inc.). Related subjects include:

December 12, 2015

Abstract datatypes and extensible RDBMS

In my recent Stonebraker-oriented post about database theory and practice over the decades, I wrote

I used to overrate the importance of abstract datatypes, in large part due to Mike’s influence. I got over it. He should too. They’re useful, to the point of being a checklist item, but not a game-changer. A big part of the problem is [that] different parts of a versatile DBMS would prefer to do different things with memory.

and then left an IOU for a survey of abstract datatypes/RDBMS extensibility. Let’s get to it.

Perhaps the most popular term was actually object/relational DBMS, but I’ve never understood the etymolygy on that one.

Although I call RDBMS extensibility a “checklist item”, the list of products that can check it off is actually pretty short.

Surely there are more, but at the moment I can’t really think of which they are.

Read more

November 11, 2015

Notes on the technology supporting packaged application software

This is part of a three-post series on enterprise application software over the decades, meant to serve as background to a DBMS2 post on issues in enterprise apps.

0. I’d like to discuss the technology underneath packaged application software. To create some hope of the discussion being coherent, let’s split apps into a few categories:

1. The idea of bundling ERP (or its predecessor MRP) with an underlying DBMS has been around for a long time.

And for smaller enterprises, it has been the norm, not the exception.

Read more

November 11, 2015

Enterprise application software — generalities

This is part of a three-post series on enterprise application software over the decades, meant to serve as background to a DBMS2 post on issues in enterprise apps.

1. There can actually be significant disagreement as to what is or isn’t an enterprise application. I tend to favor definitions that restrict the category to (usually) server software, which manages transactions, customer interactions, financial records and things like that. Some other definitions are even more expansive, including personal productivity software such as Microsoft Office, computer-aided engineering systems and the like.

2.  Historically, application software has existed mainly to record and route information, commonly from people to machines and back. Indeed, one could say that applications are characterized by (up to) five (overlapping) aspects, which may be abbreviated as:

The first four of those five items fit into my “record and route information” framework.

Read more

September 22, 2014

Larry Ellison memories

Larry Ellison had an official job change, and will be CTO and Executive Chairman of Oracle — with the major product groups reporting to him — instead of CEO. I first met Larry 31 years ago, and hung out with him quite a bit at times. So this feels like time for a retrospective.

For starters, let me say:

Some anecdotes: Read more

July 11, 2014

20th Century DBMS success and failure

As part of my series on the keys to and likelihood of success, I’d like to consider some historical examples in various categories of data management.

A number of independent mainframe-based pre-relational DBMS vendors “crossed the chasm”, but none achieved anything resembling market dominance; that was reserved for IBM. Success when they competed against each other seemed to depend mainly on product merits and the skills of individual sales people or regional sales managers.

IBM killed that business by introducing DB2, a good product with very good strategic marketing from a still-dominant vendor. By “very good strategic marketing” I mean that IBM both truly invented and successfully market-defined the relational DBMS concept, including such conceptual compromises as:

In the minicomputer world, however, hardware vendors lacked such power, and independent DBMS vendors thrived. Indeed, Oracle and Ingres rode to success on the back of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and other minicomputer vendors, including the payments they got to port their products to various platforms.* The big competitive battle was Oracle vs. Ingres, about which I can say for starters: Read more

November 17, 2013

Software delivery and pricing — the first 55 years

The commercial computing, software and services industries have existed for half a century or so each. It might be interesting to review how their pricing and delivery models have evolved over time.

1960s and 1970s

Modern IT is commonly dated from the introduction of the IBM 360 mainframe in 1964-5. But even before then, there was a growing industry in what we’d now call outsourced services, specifically in payroll processing; major players included Automatic Data Processing (ADP), the company that gave us Senator Frank Lautenberg, and a variety of banks. This was (and to this day remains) a comprehensive service, priced by unit of work (e.g., number of payroll checks cut).

IBM mainframes, which quickly came to dominate the market, were in the 1960s and 70s commonly rented. IBM software that ran on them was hence typically priced on a rental/subscription basis as well. The independent packaged software companies, however, often preferred to get paid up front,* and hence sold perpetual licenses to their software. Annual maintenance fees for the licensed software started in the range of 10% of the perpetual license or even less, but migrated up to today’s 20-22% range.

Read more

April 29, 2013

DBMS acquisitions

Recently I expressed doubts about Actian’s DBMS-conglomerate growth strategy. For context, perhaps I should review other DBMS vendors’ acquisition strategies in the past. Some — quite a few — worked out well; others — including many too minor to list — did not.

In the pre-relational days, it was common practice to buy products that hadn’t succeeded yet, and grow with them. Often these were programs written at enterprises, rather than third-party packages. Most of Cullinet’s product line, including its flagship DBMS IDMS, was came into the company that way. ADR, if memory serves, acquired the tiny vendor who created DATACOM/DB.

Then things slowed down. A Canadian insurance company oddly bought Computer Corporation of America, to utter non-success. (At least I got an investment banking finder’s fee on the deal.) Computer Associates, which did brilliantly in acquiring computer operations software, had a much rockier time with DBMS. It acquired Cullinet, Applied Data Research, and ASK/Ingres — among others — and didn’t have much growth or other joy with any of them.

Indeed, Ingres has been acquired three times, and hasn’t accomplished much for any of the acquirers (ASK, Computer Associates, Actian).

I used to think that Oracle’s acquisition of RDB provided key pieces of what became Oracle’s own extensibility technology. Andy Mendelsohn, however, disputed this vehemently — at least by his standards of vehemence — and his sources are better than mine. Rather, I now believe as I wrote in 2011:

… while Oracle’s track record with standalone DBMS acquisitions is admirable (DEC RDB, MySQL, etc.), Oracle’s track record of integrating DBMS acquisitions into the Oracle product itself is not so good. (Express? Essbase? The text product line? None of that has gone particularly well.)

Experiences were similar for some other relational DBMS pioneers.  Read more

October 3, 2012

Oracle’s evolution — overview

The single company whose history people most often ask me about is Oracle. That makes sense — Oracle is a hugely important company, which I’ve known for almost all of its 30-year commercial life.  And of course, this being the week of Oracle OpenWorld, Oracle is top-of-mind.

Let’s start with a breezy overview, setting the stage for more detailed posts to follow. As I see it, there have been four eras at Oracle, which between them reflect just about every tech company management theory I can think of.

Startup: This period comprised initial development, custom contract with the US military (CIA, I think, even though the demo database was always naval), and initial product release. This is the one phase of Oracle’s history I didn’t witness personally. But it seems to have been pretty much a story of “build a minimum viable product for a great vision, and hustle until somebody buys it.”

Hypergrowth: Roughly speaking, Oracle grew 100% per year on its way from $5 million in revenue to $1 billion. This period formed much of the basis for Geoffrey Moore’s famous “Crossing the Chasm” series of books. In line with Moore’s later observations, Oracle’s priorities in this period were: Read more

July 10, 2011

When professional services and software mix

I blogged a little last year about the rewards and challenges of combining professional services and software in a mature company’s business model. My main example was Oracle. But other examples from Oracle’s history might have been equally instructive. For example:

Read more

October 3, 2010

Ray Lane and the integration of software and consulting at Oracle

Oracle pretty much doubled revenue every year until it got around the $1 billion level. Then things got tougher, industry-standard revenue recognition scandals not excepted. At one point there were only three buildings on the Oracle campus, with large portions of them eerily empty. But the ship righted itself, best exemplified by three transitions:

Political battles still raged at Oracle — Mike Fields vs. Craig Conway, Terry Garnett vs. Jerry Baker, and later on Mark Benioff vs. pretty much everybody. But the company was ready to move to next level. Read more

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