What is it?
Number five in the SSP/Computer Weekly survey of the most in-demand IT skills, Oracle is the leading relational database in terms of market share. Oracle tends to be strongest on Unix, with Microsoft increasingly grabbing the small to medium-sized NT-user market, and IBM dominant in the datacentre, particularly on its own platforms.
Database sales increased in 2000/2001 and, until the first quarter of 2002, Oracle was faring less badly than most IT companies in the difficult economic climate. Explaining the company's worse than expected results for the first few months of this year, Jeff Henley, Oracle's chief financial officer, said Oracle was not losing market share, but the markets where it is strong - dotcoms, telecoms and IT manufacturing - have been the hardest hit by the downturn.
Henley says companies are buying Oracle 9i Standard Edition now in preparation for Enterprise Edition later. However, although Oracle 9i was released last year, many users are still working to install Oracle 8/8i. An International Oracle User Group survey found that 20% of users have already installed 9i and 77% intend to do so in the next year.
What's it for?
In a report published in December 2001 in which it compares the leading databases, Bloor Research says, "In evolutionary terms, Oracle 8 was about objects, 8i was about browsers, Java and the Internet, and 9i is about deployment."
Oracle 9i Enterprise Edition is the corporate version, and 9i Standard Edition is for workgroups and departments. There is also 9i Personal Edition for single-user development and 9i Lite for mobile devices.
Where did it originate?
Launched in 1977, Oracle was the first relational database management system (RDBMS) on the market, beating IBM by a couple of years. Oracle's user base grew spectacularly through the 1980s and early 1990s. This global success was driven by sales models developed in the UK.
Oracle is the database of choice for many enterprise resource planning system suppliers. The shortage of skills and high rates of pay created a booming market for contractors, although this is now starting to slow.
What does it run on?
NT, Unix and, increasingly, Linux.
What makes it special?
Bloor's report says, "While we have rated IBM overall leader and leader in terms of application support, we have scored Oracle highest for underlying technology."
It adds, "[Oracle's strategy is] devoted to centralisation, whereas IBM's approach is geared towards federation. That is, IBM's approach is about managing data wherever it currently is, whereas Oracle's approach is about centralising information into a single location."
Like other database suppliers, Oracle has been putting more functionality into the database, most recently it has addressed datawarehousing and content management.
How difficult is it?
Following either the database administrator or developer skills routes will take four to six weeks of intensive and expensive classroom training.
Where is it used?
Oracle is promoting its product as more than just a database - it is also an application server (which can be bought separately, but overlaps and is closely linked to the database), a mail server, a platform for content management, an XML database and a datawarehouse.
Don't confuse -
Oracle's Pro*C with Coracle, a version of C for traditional boat builders.
Few people know -
According to Partridge's Dictionary of Historical Slang, "to work the oracle" means "to raise money". It certainly worked until the last quarter.
What's coming up?
The next release of 9i, with additional XML and datawarehousing support. New Intel/Linux servers that should offer lower costs and a more stable environment than Windows NT.
Rates of pay: Oracle
Systems analyst £30,000
Senior systems analyst £44,000
Systems developer £34,000
Senior systems developer £42,000
Technical support manager £42,000
Project manager £44,000
Development manager £54,000
Source: SSP/Computer Weekly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends
Oracle offers a range of classroom, CD and Web-based training (see http://education. oracle.com). There is also a thriving independent sector offering general and specialist courses. Try www.intelinfo.com/free_oracle_training.