Oracle sees ideal ‘application’ for education market

Oracle sees ideal ‘application’ for education market

You remember that old Avis rental car commercial: “We try harder.” The world’s second biggest software business has the same mantra. According to Marie Goodell, director of marketing for the Oracle 9i Application Server, Oracle’s goal is to be #1 in the application server (AS) marketspace. The recent release of Oracle 9i AS 2.0 is the latest attempt to achieve that goal.

The idea behind an application server is simple — it helps developers create complex applications for web users. A database company like Oracle can help clients whose back-end code relies heavily on their databases, integrating products more cost-effectively.

“As more and more companies have gone to web-based applications and are using the Internet to share and disseminate information,” Goodell notes, “the ability to serve those applications and information is key.”

Release 2.0 has made significant moves in three areas, she explains. She says that Oracle’s J2EE application server is built to serve up applications 24-7 in a high performance, scaleable, and secure fashion. The J2EE server engine also provides the ability for clustering of hardware devices.

Speaking a Common Language

Goodell notes that the ability for applications to communicate with each other is key in education, where so many different groups — not to mention locations — handle disparate functions. Oracle 9i AS web services allows for much improved integration. It allows applications to send information using a common format, called the web services definition language (WSDL), and send it across an http connection, using a protocol called SOAP, or Simple Object Access Protocol.

“The cool part about that is that companies can now write their service once,” Goodell explains, “and then submit it to all these different applications.” So, instead of coding in Java or XML, which ‘speak’ different languages, programmers can now use a common language that allows an exchange. It’s a little like introducing the Euro — suddenly, everyone is using the same denomination to accomplish a variety of technological tasks. That makes a lot of sense when, for example, a University system is trying to integrate online student services in one department with distance learning courses in another.

Portals and Portlets

Which brings us to Oracle’s ‘big idea’: the portal. According to Goodell, the company was a leader in offering portals, as well as mobile and business intelligence to AS customers. Because this functionality usually originates from individual vendors, most groups wanting to take advantage of the technology have had to hire consultants or a development team for integration. The Oracle 9i AS portal is a very simple tool, Goodell notes, providing wizards that walk users through set-up processes in simple declarative sentences.

Let’s take a hypothetical school system as an example. Within the portal view, an administrator can assign content and applications to sub-areas called portlets. These can be assigned different security levels by role, so that teachers might enter grades in a limited access area, and students find homework study sheets in another. The enhanced features of 2.0 omit the need to know html or Java, and that means more people can add content without waiting for a webmaster to enter it.

Oracle’s integrated business intelligence allows content from the portal to be put out to mobile devices, as well. When coupled with Oracle iLearning, part of the company’s eBusiness suite, educational groups can also create online courseware and take advantage of student tracking and so forth.

All Systems Slow?

Oracle realizes educators don’t always have the fastest modems. By placing web cachers on very low cost commodity devices, the data resides closer to the user, which helps speed delivery. When dialing into the portal, users come into the cache without having to go to the centralized server, Goodell explains. The pages are so smart, they only cache the latest changes, so instead of downloading an entire algebra section, the refresh only pertains to a daily homework assignment.

Goodell maintains that the cost of all this efficiency and integration is competitive. She says typically, sales run per processor. The standard edition, including the portal, is $10,000. As more and more users get involved, groups may have to add processors, but a low-cost caching system will help defray costs.

Education Focus

Of course, Oracle isn’t a neophyte in the education market. For the past eight years, the company has provided Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and industry-specific applications for higher education and the Oracle Academic Initiative provides Oracle software, applications, training, and technology certification programs to accredited institutions that use Oracle in their curriculum programs.

Still, as Oracle eyes that coveted move into first place in the application server space, it’s looking at key markets, including education, and how to capture them. According to Goodell, “the Portal technology is very appropriate to the education market.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Company snapshot

Company: Oracle Corporation

Headquarters: Redwood Shores, CA

Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO: Larry Ellison

Employees: 42,000 worldwide

Primary Business: Supplier of software for information management

Product Lines: database, business applications, application development and decision support tools

Revenue: $10.9 billion FY 01

Contact: Rebecca Wind, 650-506-1683

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