Volume 4, Number 36 -- October 3, 2007

Oracle on Windows: A Strong Combination, Ovum Says

Published: October 3, 2007

by Alex Woodie

Ever since Oracle delivered the first database for the Windows NT platform back in 1994, the combination of the Oracle relational database management system and the Windows Server operating system has powered applications for businesses of all sizes. And while Microsoft SQL Server now competes fiercely with the Oracle database, the two software giants have remained remarkably chummy when it comes to keeping Oracle running well on Windows Server, the IT analyst group Ovum Summit reported in a recent paper commissioned by Oracle.

In a July report titled "Making the Case for Oracle Database on Windows," Ovum analyst Dwight Davis lays out the ways that Oracle and Microsoft have worked together, despite their adversarial positions. "In the computer industry, things are not always as they seem at first glance," Davis writes. (The fact that Ovum didn't disclose that Oracle commissioned the paper until the bottom of the last page of the report also proves this truism. But late disclosure is better than no disclosure at all.)

Indeed, while Larry Ellison's company has been a vocal supporter of Linux and even has its own Linux distribution (modestly called "Unbreakable Linux"), Oracle has profited handsomely from the thousands of Oracle database deployments on Windows through the years. In fact, sales of Oracle's database for Windows and Linux are running roughly neck and neck, Davis says. For the record, Oracle doesn't disclose database deployment breakdowns by operating system--not for IT Jungle reporters, and not even for analysts writing reports that it has paid for--so these are the best estimates the analyst industry can come up with.

Considering the billions that Windows deployments have put in Oracle's coffers, it would be audaciously crazy--even by Ellison's high standards--to turn one's back on the Windows platform. And Oracle hasn't. In fact, according to Davis, the deep support that Microsoft and Oracle have built into the database and accompanying development tools is one of the best kept secrets in the industry.

Davis cites several example of this remarkable symbiotic relationship. For starters, Oracle's deep support for Microsoft's Active Directory framework is instrumental in providing authentication mechanisms in Oracle-powered applications, such as single sign-on, that save customers money. The work that Microsoft and Oracle are doing together on XML Web services standards and support for Office as a front-end for Oracle's ERP applications are additional examples. Much of this work is done through Oracle's participation in Microsoft's Visual Studio Industry Partner program, Davis says.

Not surprisingly, Oracle has tuned its database to squeeze out as much performance as possible when running on Windows Server operating systems. In fact, even though Windows historically hasn't offered the scalability of the most powerful Unix platforms, Oracle running on Windows has offered surprisingly good performance. This is due, Davis notes, to the thread-based design of the Windows operating system, which allows each database instance to run as a single process with multiple threads, resulting in relatively fast performance and lower overhead than the process-based architecture used in Unix.

Now that Windows Server is available in 64 bits, the operating system has narrowed the performance gap with Unix. But back in the 32-bit only days, Oracle used a few tricks to eek extra oomph out of Windows, such as Address Windowing Extensions (AWE), which allowed the database to utilize up to 64 GB of memory, instead of the 4 GB maximum that 32-bit systems normally entail. Oracle also took advantage of a switch in Windows that allowed it to use 3 GB of 32-bit systems' normal 4 GB of addressable memory. (Normally, the 4 GB is divided equally between the applications or database and the operating system itself.)

Things are also surprisingly congenial between Microsoft and Oracle when it comes to development tools. Oracle's Ellison has demonstrated ferocious competitiveness in the past, such as during the raucous battle to acquire PeopleSoft several years ago when Ellison said Oracle would stop enhancing PeopleSoft Enterprise and force Enterprise users to migrate to Oracle's E-Business Suite. But between Oracle and Microsoft, there appears to be a deep level of affection when it comes to development tools.

Oracle development tools for Visual Studio take three major forms, including Oracle Database Extensions for .NET, which allow developers to write Oracle database functions and stored procedures in .NET languages; Oracle Developer Tools for Visual Studio .NET, a Visual Studio plug-in that allows developers to access Oracle database services when writing applications; and Oracle Data Provider for .NET (ODP.NET), which gives .NET applications full access to Oracle database capabilities, including Oracle RAC clustering, load balancing, native Oracle XML, native Oracle data types, and PL/SQL stored procedures.

With new releases of the Windows Server operating system and Visual Studio development tools expected over the next 12 months, we will likely see a stepped up effort by Oracle to position itself as a premiere provider of database management systems for small and mid size Windows shops. With Windows commanding the bulk of operating system dollars, and the SMB accounting for the bulk of the growth in IT spending, this would seem to be a prudent move on Oracle's part.

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Editor: Alex Woodie
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik,
Shannon O'Donnell, Timothy Prickett Morgan
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