Oracle Fusion: A functional spec in search of applications

Larry Ellison was a no-show--out with the flu--but Oracle President Charles Phillips led the Fusion proceedings at City Hall in San Francisco. Phillips stated that the one new headline for the event is that “Oracle is halfway to Fusion.
Written by Dan Farber, Inactive
Larry Ellison was a no-show--out with the flu--but Oracle President Charles Phillips led the Fusion proceedings at City Hall in San Francisco. Phillips stated that the one new headline for the event is that “Oracle is halfway to Fusion.” 

He claimed that in the first year of the Fusion project (he said the ‘project’ label has been dropped because it’s no longer exploratory) the “hard part”—such as toolsets, middleware, functional requirements—has been completed. He went as far as to say that Fusion is ahead of schedule, but he didn’t say that the Fusion application suite would be available before the end of 2008, its original target date.

Creating the architecture and functional specs is a good start, of course, but building all the applications within two years and making migration easy and cost-effective will be a good test of the technical decisions and processes set up in last year.  At least, Phillips and team provided a more clear representation of Fusion, which basically is going to reformulate all the existing Oracle applications, or functions, in a new architecture.

Phillips said that Oracle would make sure that 80 percent of customers would be “eligible” to upgrade to the first release of Fusion when it is released. Eligible, he said, didn’t mean customers would be forced to upgrade, but he didn’t clarify exactly what "eligible" means. I would guess that customers who have the right versions of Oracle software and have primed their infrastructure are “eligible” to make the transition.  Further clarifying the meaning of Fusion, Phillips said that the term would used in three areas–attached to applications, middleware and the platform architecture.

Phillips also felt the need for some Fusion myth-busting, mostly driven by sniping from competitors. His basic message was that with or without the acquisitions, Oracle was going to build a new platform based on Java, SOA and other standards. The billions spent on acquisitions provides “more customers, more people to help define applications and more resources,” he said.

Phillps promised that the presentations would offer steak, not sizzle, and would demonstrate how far along Oracle is with Fusion. Thomas Kurien, Oracle senior vice president of development, spent nearly 40 minutes having some of his developers run through current and future Fusion Middleware platform demos. As an example, they showed a composite application using PeopleSoft order management and Oracle eBusiness Suite with business intelligence, BPEL workflow, unified portal and integration with Microsoft Office. Kurien said there were more than 625 active Fusion Middleware customers to date. “More customers use Fusion Middleware to integrate SAP with an enterprise than with SAP’s middleware,” he added.

That statement has become one of Oracle’s banner marketing claims. Given that a majority of SAP applications run on Oracle’s database, Oracle should say how many of those SAP customers actually paid for Oracle Fusion Middleware or use only a few components, such as identity management. 

Kurien said that latest version of Fusion Middleware, shipping now, includes 357 new features and went through over 3 million hours of testing. The 3 million hours of testing sound good, but 357 new features in a new release is a scary proposition. 

After Kurian, John Wookey, Oracle senior vice president of applications, took the stage and offered a definition of Fusion applications:

  • Based on best of what Oracle, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards have delivered
  • Built on a standards-based, commercially available development platform
  • Designed as a business intelligent application—roles and tasks of individuals through business workflow
  • Service & event enabled, model driven—component isolation and easier to integrate with existing applications and fine-grained control over business process orchestration
  • Scalable and secure—take cost and risk out of deploying applications

Wookey then went over the roadmap for Fusion. In 2005 Oracle delivered the Fusion architecture, Fusion Middleware certification and a functional assessment of the current set of applications as well as a superset of functionality (services) to be delivered for Fusion applications. For example, Siebel, which has the most robust CRM implementation, will provide the functional foundation for Fusion CRM, with features from Oracle, such as territory management, and PeopleSoft feature filling out the spec, Wookey said.


Oracle SVP John Wookey

This year, Oracle is slated to have the next versions of its applications: PeopleSoft Enterprise 9, JD Edwards 8.12 and  Oracle EBS 12, with some integration of Fusion capabilities. PeopleSoft will include Fusion analytics and data hub technology, for example. Oracle EBS 12 will be delivered on the latest Fusion Middleware release, Wookey said, as well as with the Fusion data model. Some applications will begin migrating to the Fusion toolset.

In addition, in 2006 Oracle will publish a services repository and enable business process flows that leverage Fusion Middleware. The services repository will map back to services offered today, and allow users to model business processes and have a good idea what will be in place at the end of the Fusion road, Wookey said. Oracle will have between 500 and 1000 major services in its repository, Wookey said. Business process management for Siebel is also on the 2006 roadmap.

Wookey also expects that some Fusion technology will be available in advance of changing underlying transaction platforms. “[The transition to Fusion] will be incremental and non-disruptive,” he said. As an example, Fusion report libraries could be integrated with existing applications. 

However, many customers add customer code to their applications and data models, which can make the transition difficult. Wookey said that Oracle is developing a tool that can inventory customizations where data models have been extended as a way to help manage upgrades.

In 2007 individual Fusion applications will begin to appear, leading into 2008 when the entire suite of applications will be available. “The move to Fusion is an upgrade, not a re-implementation,” Wookey said. Customers will be able to move to single instance or to segregate instances of specific applications as many customers do today, Wookey added.

It’s an upgrade as long as customers follow Wookey’s advice, which is to make sure that they adopt the latest releases (which are included in maintenance fees), retire customizations and unify operational infrastructure with Fusion Middleware and Grid. That is the hat trick for Oracle—if customers don’t continuously upgrade the transition to Fusion applications, the transition will be more laborious. 

Oracle wins in many ways when it can retire the old code bases and move customers to a single Fusion code base, and at least keep up if not lead the competition in delivering on the SOA/standards promise. After the presentations,  Ray Wong of Forrester Research told me that Oracle laid out a clear strategy of how PeopleSoft and Oracle eBusiness are evolving into the Fusion model. "Now the ball is in SAP's court to show  their capabilities on NetWeaver," Wong said. "Oracle has leveled the playing field, coming up from behind." 
Work begins this year on detailed design and development. “For 2008, the work will be very hard and we'll be doing some things that in reality, on case by case basis, will create some challenges,” Wookey said.  Wookey’s key message to customers was to protect their investments by adopting the latest releases, retiring customizations and unifying their operational infrastructure with Fusion Middleware and Grid.  That’s the only way for customers can evolve somewhat gracefully to Fusion and for Oracle to have a chance of ending up with a success story in December 2008.

I asked enterprise software analyst Josh Greenbaum for his impression of the presentation. “Oracle is saying that they are doing what they said they were going to do, but there isn’t much new since Oracle OpenWorld in September last year,” Greenbaum said.

True, the basic outline for Fusion hasn't changed, and Oracle still has to build the applications, but there is something behind the curtain. Right now, it's mostly a functional specification. We'll see over the next year whether Fusion was really halfway done on January 18, 2006...

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