When Oracle Corporation hosted its OpenWorld user conference two weeks ago, it made a significant effort to reassure JD Edwards customers that their new vendor has their best interests at heart. Besides signing a landmark middleware agreement with IBM, Oracle deepened its commitment to enhance and support current JD Edwards applications and left open the possibility that its Project Fusion applications may support IBM's DB2 database.
As many JD Edwards users already know, Oracle has pledged that its World and EnterpriseOne applications will run on current versions of IBM's WebSphere and DB2 software through 2013 at the least. At OpenWorld, Oracle and IBM extended their middleware cooperation by announcing that WebSphere products will also support Oracle's next-generation Fusion applications. Such support could make it possible for JD Edwards users to upgrade to Fusion applications without having to migrate from WebSphere to Oracle's Fusion middleware.
To underline this possibility, several Oracle executives proclaimed that Fusion middleware products will be "hot-pluggable" with competitive products that support the same open standards. In his keynote speech, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison identified IBM and open source vendor JBoss as two companies whose middleware could act as substitutes for comparable Fusion products. Ellison also stressed that Fusion applications should be easy to integrate with non-Fusion applications as long as they run on standards-based middleware.
When it came to having Fusion applications support IBM's DB2 database, however, Ellison stated that he has not yet made a decision. At present, Oracle is talking with its newly acquired customers about their levels of commitment to DB2 and Microsoft's SQL Server. While Oracle remains open to supporting these products on Fusion applications in addition to its own database, Ellison said that the decision is still a "toss up" for him. As Ellison sees it, Oracle needs to strike a balance between providing database portability and ensuring database security. The latter objective would be easier to achieve if Fusion only supported Oracle's database technologies.
Among the JD Edwards attendees at the conference, it was clear what database choices they want Oracle to make. At a breakout event for World users, many attendees insisted that they would upgrade to Fusion applications only if they run natively on DB2/400 and the i5/OS operating system. The same group broke into applause when John Wookey--Oracle's Senior Vice President for Application Development--stated that he wants the World development team to make its users so happy that "they do not care about Fusion." In keeping with Wookey's words, World General Manager John Schiff announced that Oracle will ship a new version of World entitled "A9" next year. Among its many enhancements, World A9 will support lean manufacturing, offer improved integration with Microsoft Office, and provide upgrade processes that make it easier to carry forward customizations from older releases. The new version will combine the World A7.3 and A8.1 code bases and provide an upgrade path for both releases.
In a further show of support for JD Edwards applications, Oracle announced a "lifetime support policy" that extends the initial period of full support for application releases from four to five years. After five years, customers can continue to receive full support--including bug fixes and regulatory upgrades--for another three years on selected product releases and then receive technical support services for as long as they pay maintenance fees. As part of the announcement, Oracle stated that it will offer full support services for OneWorld Xe and EnterpriseOne 8.0 through 2013. This will come as a relief to EnterpriseOne users, as the majority of them are on these older releases.
An "Entice Without Force" Upgrade Strategy
Between its announcements of new product releases and more generous support terms, Oracle did much at OpenWorld to improve its image among JD Edwards customers. As I spoke with customers at coffee breaks and receptions, I heard statements that ranged from relief to delight over what Oracle was offering them. At this moment, the majority of users have no plans to upgrade or migrate off their applications. As such, they are glad to take Oracle up on its offers of extended support for their applications and the IBM technologies that run underneath them.
At the same time, some JD Edwards users are becoming curious about what Oracle's Fusion applications and middleware could offer them in the future. Oracle tried to pique that curiosity in conference sessions that discussed how it is weaving Fusion technologies into future releases of JD Edwards applications and development toolkits. Moreover, while Wookey may be telling the World development team to delight its customers, he is also telling the Fusion team to make its applications so good that they will entice both World and EnterpriseOne users to upgrade. Such internal competition could benefit JD Edwards customers by giving them a wider array of software options from which to choose.
In short, Oracle is creating an environment in which JD Edwards users will have plenty of time to evaluate the vendor's Fusion strategy while receiving support for their current applications. Clearly, Oracle would rather collect maintenance fees on existing products for years rather than risk losing customers to competitors because it pushed them to upgrade too quickly. This approach will undoubtedly appeal to the large numbers of conservative JD Edwards users who have not yet come up with any good reasons to embrace next-generation solutions.