Oracle's having another stab at the Collaboration Suite market – and it isn't buying its way into the market! But will Beehive justify the buzz at this week's OpenWorld conference?
By Stuart Lauchlan, news and analysis editor
Oracle in 2008 is such an 'out and proud' acquirer of other software companies – having spent $34bn on 50 such purchases over the past five years – that it can be easy to forget that the firm spent most of the previous couple of decades growing its own technology in-house.
But this week at Oracle OpenWorld there's been a nostalgic reminder of the 'build your own' mentality with the introduction of a new collaborative communications suite named Beehive. It's a move that opens up a yet another collision course between Oracle and the likes of Microsoft and IBM - and it's all their own work! "It is a product we built from scratch over the last three years," said Chuck Rozwat, executive vice-president of product development at Oracle.
Beehive seeks to take communication software, from e-mail to instant messaging to chat, and the various security rules, databases and storage that are tied to each product on separate servers, and integrate them with fewer servers on one platform. The bundle contains applications for e-mail, voice mail, instant messaging, shared calendars, Web conferencing and shared documents. A key component is "My Workspace," which can be added to Outlook accounts. This lets people store documents, e-mails, recordings of Web conferences and transcripts of instant message chats in a single place. The suite also has audit trail functions, which keep track of details such as when a certain employee has opened a document.
Oracle's making one of its main selling points the idea that you need less Oracle software than you would with comparable Microsoft products, although Beehive can work with Microsoft’s Exchange server and Outlook client software. It's also designed to co-exist with IBM's Lotus Notes. Customers can also write their own software for Beehive, changing its look and feel to suit their individual needs.
Chuck Rozwat, executive vice-president of product development at Oracle
Early adopters were enthusiastic about the product's capabilities. "Oracle Beehive is about to revolutionise the way in which we collaborate and make a lot of the tasks that we take for granted, yet appear to be cumbersome, a lot easier," said Salim Ansari, Head of IT Support, European Space Agency, while Stephan Budach, IT Support R&D, Jung von Matt GmbH, noted: "Supporting open standards like WebDav/CalDav and IMAP makes Oracle Beehive and excellent choice for an Apple Mac-centric enterprise. Finally, Oracle Beehive brings enterprise collaboration to the Mac desktop."
Third time lucky?
Beehive's formal release at the conference represents a 'third time lucky' pitch for Oracle in the collaboration suite game. An e-mail and calendar application failed in the 1990s while more recently Oracle Collaboration Suite didn't set the market ablaze with excitement.
"Oracle Collaboration Suite was not widely adopted in the market, with Oracle finding difficulties in persuading customers to adopt the technology," noted David Mitchell of research house Ovum. "Beehive, with its much improved functionality, architecture and user-interaction models, has the potential to change that pattern. Beehive should not be viewed as an upgrade, whether major or minor, to Oracle Collaboration Suite. It needs to be viewed as an entirely new product range, built after learning the lessons of previous attempts.
"There are two significant differences compared to previous Oracle efforts in this space: architecture and the user-interaction model. At an architecture level the expected scalability of an Oracle infrastructure is a given, as is the focus on industry standards. It is also constructed on firm SOA foundations, meaning that Beehive can be integrated and embedded into many different elements of a corporate architecture, rather than being a standalone collaboration 'software island'. This architectural element will be one of the most important aspects of collaboration in the future, as collaboration becomes an inherent element of other applications. The user interaction model involves treating collaboration as an integral element of other work and tasks, rather than having a separate interaction model."
David Mitchell, Ovum
Mitchell said that Beehive's co-existence strategy with IBM and Microsoft was to be welcomed. "The typical CIO has to support collaboration and communication infrastructure with technology provided by multiple suppliers, rather than having wall-to-wall technology from a single provider," he said. "IBM, through Lotus, and Microsoft have been viewed by some as mutually exclusive, with a customer having one or the other - very rarely both. Sales teams have sought to persuade customers to move from one to the other, with a series of marketing efforts.
"In practice, it is very difficult for a CIO to take the decision to migrate from a mainstream collaboration platform, for a number of reasons. Over the past 12 months we have seen a change in the way that collaboration software from most providers is being positioned. Rarely do we see an 'all or nothing' sales pitch. Instead we see all of the major vendors recognising that the collaboration environment in most enterprises will be heterogeneous. Existing vendors may soon have to recognise Beehive as a new element in that mix."