Oracle unveiled a major chunk of Fusion Middleware 11g, the foundation for its next-generation Fusion Applications, during an event in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
The vendor is delivering updates to four components of the sprawling middleware portfolio: Oracle SOA Suite, its framework for service-oriented architecture, the WebCenter portal and collaboration suite; Oracle Identity Management; and WebLogic Suite, which includes the application server acquired through Oracle's acquisition of BEA Systems.
Other middleware products, such as for content management, will make their 11g debuts later this year, according to Hasan Rizvi, senior vice president of Fusion Middleware products. Meanwhile, JDeveloper 11g, Oracle's programming toolkit, was released last year.
In announcing the latest 11g products, Oracle is sticking to its long-time middleware marketing message, which stresses the value of an integrated suite but also the value of open standards and the ability to work well in heterogeneous environments.
Overall, the releases have been years in the making. Some 13 million hours of automated testing and 7,350 "person years" of development have gone into the process, according to Oracle.
While executives -- and a veritable snowstorm of press releases and whitepapers -- talked up various new capabilities aimed at cloud computing, grid computing and social networking, integration seems to be the strongest theme of Oracle's announcement.
Middleware family members now have integrated customization, metadata management and security, and work has been done to improve connections with Oracle's own applications, according to Oracle.
In addition, the products Oracle acquired from BEA have now been "completely" integrated.
Although it has worked to make the process easy, Oracle is not going to rush 10g middleware customers to upgrade, according to Rizvi.
"It's really the customer's call," he said. "[But] we believe, for multiple reasons, that the 11g products are ready for prime time today."
The upgrade is covered under existing customers' maintenance plans, meaning no new licensing will be required for those users, he said.
Meanwhile, WebCenter has gained a number of social-networking features, including a browser-based tool with which end-users and administrators can create, tweak and share applications and portals.
Overall, Wednesday's 11g launch wave is quite significant in terms of scope, integration and feature improvements, so current customers should pay attention, according to Forrester Research analyst John Rymer.
"It's not just an upgrade," Rymer said. There are "very substantial changes and progress in productivity."
Oracle is trying to tell the industry its middleware is on par with IBM's, according to Rymer. "I think of this as Oracle stepping out from IBM's shadow in middleware."
The changes in 11g are key, he stressed. For example, many Oracle users who were once BEA customers and are used to using the Eclipse application development platform have a difficult choice ahead, since middleware 11g is tightly integrated with Oracle's JDeveloper.
"[Customers] need to look at JDeveloper and say, 'are the potential productivity gains worth the sacrifices I'm going to make,'" Rymer said.
11g middleware also underpins Fusion Applications, Oracle's next-generation suite of business software that is supposed to combine the best features of its various product lines.
While Fusion Applications' release date has been a moving target for years, company officials of late have indicated they will be generally available in 2010.
"If you're interested in Fusion Apps, this is your world," Rymer said. "[JDeveloper] is the way you will customize them."
What remains to be seen is what Oracle will do with the many middleware and hardware products it will acquire through the pending acquisition of Sun Microsystems.
Oracle spokespeople declined comment Wednesday.
But in remarks at Wednesday's event, Oracle President Charles Phillips did allude to the deal, and offered a vague glimpse of what is to come.
"There's a lot of things we can do as we bring in the silicon and the storage," he said. "Some things that are currently in software probably should be embedded in devices. ... Some things should be on silicon itself, like encryption. Some things should be on the storage level."
Overall, Phillips' remarks reflected the general forward-looking vision Oracle has developed of late, wherein it will provide customers with a complete stack, from hardware to middleware and applications.
That theme and Wednesday's announcements sparked some trash talk from one competitor.
"For end-users who want to capitulate and give up on IT as a provider of competitive differentiation, this might seem like a way of reducing cost and complexity," said Miko Matsumura, chief strategist of SOA vendor Software AG, in a blog post.
"In the short term, they will be able to reduce their costs by eliminating most of their IT departments."
"However, in the long term, being beholden to the Dark Lord Sauron ... will prove to be expensive," he added, in a reference to the supervillain from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.