The Industry’s Viewpoint on Oracle-Tangosol

By By Derrick Harris, Editor

April 2, 2007

While the recent news of Tangosol being acquired by Oracle certainly has changed  the distributed, in-memory data market, there has been little said by parties involved in the deal to give an indication as to just what these changes might be. Competitors and analysts in the space, however, have not been as tight-lipped, and their insights point to Oracle's entry into the world of in-memory data management — particularly in the extreme transaction processing (XTP) world — as a bittersweet turn of events.

To begin, says Massimo Pezzini, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, it is important to note that this is almost entirely a technology acquisition from Oracle's perspective, as Tangosol's approximately 120 customers and estimated annual revenues of $10-$12 million are but drops in Oracle's voluminous bucket. It is likely, Pezzini believes (and Oracle's Web site confirms), that the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based software giant will leverage Tangosol's distributed caching technology, Coherence, in various parts of its Fusion Middleware stack, with the most logical move being to extend Coherence's data grid capabilities to Oracle's existing J2EE application server.

It is Pezzini's stance that integration of Tangosol's technology “would play an important role” in allowing Oracle to meet its stated objective of investing in the emerging XTP market, and he believes this investment might bear fruit in terms of new solutions in early 2008. What this might mean in the XTP market, which has intensified in terms of competition over the past year, is anybody's guess, but Pezzini sees a future where Tangosol's main competitors, such as GigaSpaces and GemStone Systems, clearly have a challenge in front of them. “The Oracle acquisition of Tangosol is for those guys bad news because now they have to compete against a big giant such as Oracle, which is always very difficult when it comes to demonstrating viability, support and everything else,” he said.

In terms of the big picture, though, Pezzini also sees the acquisition as a potential boon for the industry, as “Oracle will educate the marketplace for them. [With] marketing dollars, the impact Oracle can have in the market is much bigger than GemStone, Tangosol and GigaSpaces combined.” As a result, competitive vendors will have the chance to compete on a technological level, sparing them the expense of having to sell end-users on the approach itself.

Geva Perry, chief marketing officer at GigaSpaces — one of the vendors Pezzini cites as a direct competitor of Tangosol — agrees with the validation aspect of Pezzini's analysis, but sees little reason to be concerned on a competitive level. Oracle's concession that traditional databases won't cut it for XTP — where performance and scalability are of the utmost importance — serves to validate the approach of not only GigaSpaces, but everyone else touting the benefits of distributed, in-memory data grids, he said. And if recent history tells him anything, it's that Tangosol might cease to compete altogether.

Perry notes that while TimesTen, with its in-memory database solution, used to appear as a GigaSpaces competitor from time to time, “they disappeared off the face of the Earth” since being snatched up by Oracle. Depending how Oracle chooses to leverage Tangosol's product, Perry said, it's possible they won't invest too much effort into selling a “little addition,” especially when it comes to going after the types of deals GigaSpaces is doing. “There are more big vendors than there are successful start-ups in this space,” he noted. “The only two successful start-ups in this space are us and Tangosol … in terms of revenue, customer traction, maturity of the technology. We're really the only two players — and now there's one.”

Taking it one step further (and admitting his obvious bias), Perry acknowledged that part of the reason GigaSpaces hasn't declared DEFCON 1 status is because GigaSpaces simply has a better, more complete solution than does Tangosol. In fact, he said, if Oracle purchased Tangosol with the primary aim of acquiring an XTP solution, they only bought a partial one, and likely will need to open the coffers a few more times to make up for it. “The difference between us and Tangosol has always been that … we're the whole application server; Tangosol really deals just with the data,” he pointed out. “That's always been our claim against them. That's how we're winning deals over them.”

One competitor taking a little more humble stance is Appistry, who recently bolstered its XTP position by adding Fabric-Accessible Memory to the latest release of its Enterprise Application Fabric. Sam Charrington, Appistry's vice president of product management and marketing, says he is excited for both Tangosol and the industry, adding that the acquisition illustrates that the incumbents are taking notice of this new way of doing things. Referencing Geoffrey Moore's influential book “Crossing the Chasm,” Charrington is “ecstatic” to see Appistry's more granular, service-oriented and transactional notion of grid computing move from an early adopter type of marketplace to the mainstream.

“What's really neat is being able to observe the macro-level shifts in the industry,” he said. “When we look back at six or nine months ago, it was so different, and my expectation looking forward over the next six or nine months is that with the pace of change, and the acceptance of these new ideas and different ways of doing things, it's really going to accelerate.”

Possible competition with Oracle aside, it seems that most involved in this space agree that Oracle's purchase of Tangosol is mostly a positive thing, with the approach being validated by Oracle's eagerness to get a piece of the market — or at least a piece of the technology. And if the market continues to grow at the pace we've seen over the past year, there might be more big news on the horizon, as other big-time software vendors aren't likely to let Oracle have XTP to itself.

Said GigaSpaces' Perry: “It's a good thing for us. What is BEA going to do? What is IBM going to do? What is TIBCO going to do? I'm sure all of these guys are going to want to talk.”

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