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Oracle's message to Exchange customers: Switch!

The database is not enough. Oracle is taking aim at the messaging and collaboration market. And who's in the scope? Exchange customers, especially those still using the doomed 5.5 version. Oracle hopes they'll get the message -- and switch.

From a technology standpoint, Oracle Corp.'s messaging and collaboration platform may be better than those offered by competitors. It may be less pricey too.

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  • But how do you convince a bunch of IT executives who are committed to Microsoft to go through the hassle of switching to another platform -- one being sold by a vendor that's unproven in the collaboration market?

    At the OracleWorld conference next week, the database giant will talk about pricing and about the features offered in its Collaboration Suite, the company's messaging and collaboration software, which started shipping last month. The package, which runs atop the Oracle9i database, is touted as costing about one-third the price of a comparable Microsoft Exchange environment.

    Today, Microsoft's Exchange has the largest market share in terms of seats, although IBM's Lotus Domino is larger in terms of overall revenue, said Dana Gardner, an analyst at Aberdeen Group, a consulting firm in Boston. Microsoft's Outlook client is far and away the dominant client.

    "Those two players have created a two-horse race, and for Oracle coming into the market, it will be tough rowing upstream," Gardner said.

    Oracle executives see the market opportunity to reach out to Exchange 5.5 customers who, for one reason or another, haven't migrated to Exchange 2000. Microsoft recently said that regular support for Exchange 5.5 will end late next year.

    "Our best opportunity is [Exchange] 5.5 customers, but those are not our only opportunity," said Steve Levine, vice president of Collaboration Suite marketing at Oracle.

    Levine said that the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company also has prospective customers that are already on Exchange 2000 and looking not just at e-mail but at all collaborative services.

    Oracle's Collaboration Suite is well-timed because the whole business of messaging and the definition of collaboration are shifting. Aberdeen's Gardner said that messaging is evolving from being an application switch and an SMTP gateway to a platform, where collaboration's growing productivity is associated with other applications and activity.

    Gardner said that even though Microsoft and Lotus have dominance, with this disruptive change afoot, the target is shifting.

    "It is how collaboration gets used in conjunction with other activities; it's not how someone should re-pave the whole cow path," Gardner said.

    It's an interesting inflection point for Exchange users, who may be starting to think about their own collaborative strategies. Many enterprises are still on Exchange 5.5 and moving to Exchange 2000. The next version of Exchange, Titanium, will be available in 2003. The version of Exchange after that is Kodiak, which will be based on Yukon, a new relational database technology.

    IBM is on the same track with Domino, moving from its Notes Storage Facility database technology to DB2.

    But while it might be a good time for some customers to think about making a switch, for others, the timing is not right. At St. Claire Hospital in Pittsburgh, IT executives recently finished moving from Lotus' cc: Mail to Exchange 2000. "Since this is a recent upgrade, there is no reason for us to switch," said Ted Hacker, an IT administrator at the hospital.

    And lots of customers are beholden to what their partners are doing. At the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville, Va., Steve Conley, an engineering manager, said he's committed to Exchange for a few reasons. First, his institution is also a school, so it qualifies for campus discounts from Microsoft. Also, the center's parent organization uses Exchange.

    "It [moving to Oracle] would be a hard sell," Conley said. "The time to do it would have been when we were switching from MS Mail to Exchange."

    But the fact that Oracle's database products are so entrenched gives the company an interesting opportunity to up-sell its existing customers, Gardner said. Oracle's complete feature set and seductive pricing may turn heads, particularly among the midsized shops that want more flexibility in terms of which platforms they use.

    Oracle has convinced Michael Stoeckert, the CIO and CTO at EPL Inc., a Birmingham, Ala., data processing company that serves credit unions. EPL is a former Exchange 5.5 and 2000 customer and an early user of Oracle's Collaboration Suite. Stoeckert said he expects to cut his collaboration costs about 40% by putting more mailboxes on fewer servers.

    Stoeckert said that the decision to leave Exchange was fueled by some recent decisions by the Securities and Exchange Commission that require financial institutions to save e-mail used for customer communications for two years and have archive access to the messages for three more years.

    "If we had kept Exchange, we would have to keep deploying more Exchange because the platform is not portable beyond Intel [-based servers]," Stoeckert said. "We have Windows, Sun Solaris and Linux, and we want the choice. We don't like being told we have to run on a particular platform."

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