What Oracle's next-gen technology has to do with icebergs and the Volkswagen Beetle...
Sounds like another industry buzzword to me...
You could say that but Fusion is Oracle's name for its next-generation business applications and the middleware to stitch it all together. It's a key part of the company's strategy.
Tell me more.
About six years ago, Oracle decided it wanted to develop a next generation of business apps incorporating the best elements of emerging technology and those it had acquired.
Oracle also wanted to build a middleware platform from scratch to support these new applications and make them as attractive and useful as possible to customers.
Not sure I quite get it...
OK, well let's start with the middleware.
Oracle has acquired lots of different technology companies over the years, such as Hyperion, JD Edwards, PeopleSoft and Siebel.
The arrival of these technologies, which have been developed separately by different companies, meant Oracle had a huge range of technology that was fragmented in terms of how it worked separately and collectively.
Fusion middleware - or applications infrastructure foundation - was intended to bring together these different technologies to create a unified technology portfolio that can easily be integrated, provide the latest functionality and be cost efficient for businesses to implement and run.
So how does that work exactly?
Oracle EMEA SVP for middleware Andrew Sutherland explained to silicon.com how the Fusion concept was born using the analogy of icebergs.
At the beginning of the Fusion programme, Sutherland said the Oracle technology resembled a series of disconnected icebergs. Users only saw the front end of the technology they used while the code supporting this user experience was hidden.
"What we discovered was that as we looked at our customers' organisations, they weren't running their applications as a single stack. They were running multiple icebergs. What they weren't seeing was that eight-ninths of the costs were sitting below the waterline," Sutherland said.
These below-the-waterline costs were the technology supporting the applications such as...
...ID management, business intelligence, application processes and the underlying code for integrating them with other systems.
The problem was that the various Oracle technologies had different back-end software supporting them, making them hard to use together.
Sutherland continued the analogy: "So we thought, why don't we create a single iceberg? The mother of all icebergs. So you'd have [the back-end technology] once, you'd have business intelligence here once, you'd have a portal, you'd have sign-on, you would have your process engine all in there at one time."
Right, got it now. So tell me about the Fusion applications.
The Fusion applications are essentially new applications that Oracle has been building over the past few years optimised to take advantage of the middleware.
The applications all use the same back-end technology, which forms the middleware stack, and so can easily be integrated with each other and plugged into the middleware when businesses want to add them.
The first generation of Fusion Applications include CRM, financials, government risk and compliance, human-capital management, procurement, project portfolio management and supply-chain management.
The plan is that there will eventually be Fusion applications equivalent to most existing technology in the Oracle portfolio.
So how can businesses benefit from all this next-gen technology?
By having a middleware platform that can support all Oracle applications, businesses should be able to reduce their costs when implementing and integrating technology.
When they add new applications onto the platform they know that the underlying technology within the middleware will be certified. That certification means they won't have to check every piece of software individually.
Any upgrades to the middleware also only need to be done once because the applications running will be able to access the upgrades due to the way they're integrated into the Fusion platform using service-oriented architecture (SOA).
The applications themselves will also provide benefits as they will be better integrated with each other and will be able to make use of additional functionality embedded in the middleware.
When applications are being set up, IT departments can use the middleware to add elements, such as business intelligence, collaboration and security, which aren't already part of the applications themselves.
Essentially, the functionality of the middleware can be accessed and added to applications without businesses having to invest in these elements separately for every application.
Sounds a bit like Oracle is trying to lock in customers, though...
I can see why you might think that but since Fusion is built using open standards, businesses can in theory integrate their Oracle technology with...
...systems from other vendors, such as SAP.
So as well as gaining the benefits outlined for Oracle technology, they can potentially realise these benefits for other systems.
"One of the key drivers for Oracle as a company is to build our applications stack with as many standards as possible," Oracle group VP of application strategy Chris Leone said at a recent Oracle event in London.
The fact that Fusion middleware is a single platform also makes it more suitable for cloud computing, according to Oracle.
Once the middleware is deployed - whether in a private cloud, public cloud, hosted services or hybrid - the applications can be built on top of it rather than each one having to be moved to the cloud as separate entities.
"From the ground up, we designed this to be cloud-ready," Leone said.
So is Oracle expecting people to ditch the other technology and move onto these new technologies?
Not at all - at least not in the short term.
The company announced lifetime support for existing applications in 2005 and the Applications Unlimited programme in 2006, which is essentially a promise to continue developing existing technology such as e-Business Suite, PeopleSoft and Siebel so customers can continue to benefit from them.
However, as these existing applications are developed, they will make greater use of the technology in the middleware stack, making them better suited to run on the platform.
Oracle will continue to develop these applications in parallel with the Fusion applications but, as time passes, it will become much easier for businesses to move over to Fusion because the existing technology and the Fusion applications will share much of the back-end technology.
Because these applications are moving closer to Fusion, they're certified to run with the Fusion platform so the existing deployments of non-Fusion technology can make use of the Fusion middleware.
Oracle's Sutherland uses the analogy of the Volkswagen Beetle and Golf: "You can say the Golf is using a totally new technology chassis, a new approach but we'll keep the Beetle going as long as you like and we'll try and use as many ideas from the Golf technology in the Beetle as we possibly can. So you'll find the brakes have got better, the engine's more efficient but ultimately the Beetle is on a different chassis, ultimately it's a different design."
It's likely that as long as there's...
...demand for the existing technology, Oracle will continue to develop and support it.
So how is all of this progressing?
Well, the middleware is essentially in place in the form of the 11g middleware stack – which incorporates the 11g database software - which was introduced almost two years ago.
The middleware includes the underlying business intelligence and ID management processes and SOA.
According to Oracle, there are about 100,000 customers making use of the middleware in some form to integrate their existing Oracle and non-Oracle technology.
"We've been building the chassis for quite some time. Now we're building our own coachwork for it - in fact, it's the coachwork that the chassis is built for," Oracle's Andrew Sutherland told silicon.com.
The Fusion applications are another story, though.
But even though it is now the third quarter of 2011 and about 40 early-adopter customers are already using the technology, Oracle is remaining tight-lipped about when the applications will be available more widely.
Why's it taking so long? Six years is a long time in the tech industry...
The development of these applications is a big task for Oracle but with the middleware element of Fusion already in place, the company is clearly making sure the tech is up to scratch before unleashing it to all and sundry.
"There is no timescale. We want to be absolutely sure when we go to market that the products have gone through a rigorous product assurance," Oracle's UK VP for applications Mark Wilkinson told silicon.com.
It's a significant change for Oracle and its customers, so the company won't be pushed into releasing the technology if it doesn't have to.
"We're not in any rush to release this. We don't have aggressive targets to rip and replace Applications Unlimited," Wilkinson added.
Well, I hope it's worth the wait after all that effort or there could be a lot of conFusion for customers. Geddit?
Very droll. I'm sure Oracle is thinking the same thing, though.