Oracle and IBM now have radically diverging views on how company data should be stored and accessed.
The majority of software suppliers are supporting a distributed data model but Oracle is defending the centralised, consolidated database, arguing that simplicity is the key to success.
At this month's UK Oracle User Group meeting in Birmingham, Jeremy Burton, Oracle senior vice-president for product and services marketing, said the company has put its theory into practice by aggregating the worldwide Oracle business onto a single database. It used clustering and failover support from its Real Clusters technology to ensure availability.
Burton said, "Microsoft has a distributed mindset but distributed systems have many points of failure and you can never have enough people to manage these complexities."
Microsoft is still planning its peer-to-peer data access, and favours an arrangement that uses a server to merely manage the links between users' desktop data - rather like music-swapping Web site Napster.
This method, which has the backing of IBM and Hewlett-Packard, is the beginnings of a "federated" data approach.
Thomas Gregors Honoré, marketing manager for IBM data management solutions, said, "Oracle and IBM have very different ways of looking at the e-business market. Oracle treats every customer as a greenfield site and wants them to buy everything from Oracle and link it to a central database.
"Rip out and replace does not work in companies with multiple databases and legacy systems to consider. Rather than the mother of all databases that Oracle suggests, we are offering a federated approach."
Honoré believes data does not have to reside in a relational database because a lot of it is contained in unstructured images, video and disparate documents. "It is quite possible that some databases will not contain usable data, only links to the source," he said.
Tony Lock, a senior analyst at Bloor Research, said, "Theoretically, Oracle's simpler-the-better approach is right, but there are limits to how simple a corporate's system can be.
"There is no silver bullet answer. Migrating to a single database means costly porting, and federation means complex interlinking that could lead to inflexibility. The simple approach is best applied wherever possible and economically sensible, but to apply it across a whole company depends on how much you trust the supplier."