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  1. A Rivalry of Giants in the RDBMS Arena
  2. Oracle: A Company (and a Relational Database) in the Making
  3. Summary
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Oracle: A Company (and a Relational Database) in the Making

Believe it or not, the Oracle RDBMS is more than 20 years old! In fact, Oracle Corporation celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2002. At the time of writing, Oracle Corporation is the world's second-largest software company. Springing from a very meager beginning, the company has faced many challenges over the years, and its leadership and strategic direction has been staggering, proving that there really is nothing that can't be achieved once you put your mind to it.

In this section, we'll take a brief look at the history of Oracle Corporation, focusing on Oracle 9i.

Oracle Fast Facts

  • World headquarters: 500 Oracle Parkway, Redwood Shores, CA 94065
  • Founded: 1977
  • Employees: 42,000+
  • Nasdaq symbol: ORCL
  • URL: http://www.oracle.com

Oracle began in 1977 as a partnership between Larry Ellison (who, by the way, has a very interesting history of his own), Bob Miner, and Ed Oates. They formed a company known as Software Development Laboratories (SDL) to bid on government contracts. SDL managed to bid successfully on a top-secret contract for the CIA, code-named Oracle. The work on this contract continued until the government pulled the plug on the funding, but the three visionaries saw the marketable value of a system that could store and retrieve a large amount of data in a consistent and reliable format.

In 1978 SDL developed Oracle Version 1 (v1), but never released the software publicly. This system ran using a maximum of 128KB of memory (trying doing that today). During this year, SDL became Relational Software Incorporated (RSI), and work on Oracle Version 2 (v2) continued.

Finally in 1979, Oracle v2, the first publicly available version of the RDBMS, was released by RSI. This beat IBM to the punch, which in those days was some feat, especially when IBM had around 80% of the market share. With the release of v2, RSI achieved the world's first-ever relational database. This very early version ran on the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) PDP-11 system, and really was groundbreaking, allowing for the development of true relational applications. Prior to the release of Oracle v2, the database systems that had been implemented were all hierarchical or file (network) based. The physical (well, software, really) implementation of Dr. Edgar F. Codd's relational theory meant that relational databases were born.

However, the implementation of Oracle on the DEC system was not the end of the visions that Larry and his team had for the RDBMS. In 1980, another release of the RDBMS (written in assembly code) was commissioned for Digital's VMS/VAX system. The focus to this point in time on the minicomputer system was unrivaled by anyone else. The year 1980 was a huge milestone in Oracle's history: the official birth of Oracle Systems Corporation, later to become simply Oracle Corporation. RSI changed its name to Oracle, possibly due to general confusion associated with a competitor company called RTI. This allowed the company the ability to build brand recognition with the company and its products. They determined the strategic direction for the RDBMS, and became an early adopter of the C programming language.

In 1983, Oracle had changed their underlying code base from assembly language into the C programming language, allowing the RDBMS to install and run on other operating system platforms, rather than solely on Digital systems. This meant that the database would run the same way on a mainframe as on a minicomputer—something that no one else had ever achieved. Oracle aimed the RDBMS at a number of vendor's systems, including Sun Solaris' implementation of UNIX, as well as HP/UX, IBM MVS, IBM AIX, and DEC Ultrix.

In 1984, Oracle achieved another advancement that no other database vendor had accomplished to date: database READ consistency. This ensured that when a read was performed on the data, the data would be exactly as it was at the time the read was performed. Other vendors' products were still performing "dirty" reads. To get accurate data from a point in time, you had to freeze transactions—lock everyone else out of the database—rather impractical for large institutions.

By 1985, Oracle was claiming more than 1,000 relational database sites, and more than $23 million USD in sales. Oracle's RDBMSs were also supporting more than 30 different operating systems. However, the key milestone for Oracle this year was Jeff Walker coming on board as CFO. Jeff owned Walker Interactive Products, which produced financial software. With Jeff's introduction, Oracle made a key decision to move into the financial software market, releasing Oracle financials, while everyone else stayed pure database companies. Oracle really hit a home run with this one; their turnover in the near term becoming more than their competitors' annual sales.

In 1986, Oracle developed a database with distributed capabilities (Oracle v5), and this meant that no matter where your offices where located you could join data and get a true representation of the information contained in your systems. This version of Oracle, known as SQL*Star, revolutionized the IT industry.

Interestingly, Oracle Corporation went public in 1986, only one day before Microsoft. Even then there was rivalry! With an initial share price of $15 per share, Oracle grew to achieve a market value of $270 million.

By 1987, Oracle was a very different product (and company) from when it began 10 years previously. Even though the company had ballooned to $131 million in sales, Larry still personally interviewed everyone before the company hired them. Talk about getting to know your employees...

The following year (1988) saw Oracle implement computer-aided software engineering (CASE) toolsets as well as better support for larger transactional volumes. This began the revolution of the development environment, providing developers with a core toolset for designing and delivering applications in a consistent and, best of all, standardized way. The support for ANSI standard SQL, free development tools and support were large carrots for those wanting to make the switch to the Oracle platform. In fact, it's rumored that Larry Ellison so supported the newsgroups that he used to cook for them!

By 1989, Oracle released Version 6.2, to run on the Digital VMS/VAX clustered system. Another revolution for the IT industry, it provided a truly scalable architecture only seem in systems that cost more than 10 times the amount of the minicomputer system clusters. This technology is a true sales point in today's e-commerce and business applications.

It wasn't until 1993 that Oracle released their next version of the RDBMS, formally known as Oracle7, for the UNIX operating system—a key shift from the Digital systems of the past. This came with an out-of-the-box cost-based optimizer. The introduction of the cost-based optimizer allowed for the beginning of self-monitoring database systems, taking some of the tedious work out of a DBA's life. The most important aspect of Oracle7, though, was very large database (VLDB) support. This meant that Oracle could now store and retrieve data from databases that were over 5 terabytes in size, paving the way forward for data warehouses, a key feature of Oracle over other competitors.

By 1994, Oracle Version 7.1 was available to the general public, and provided support for parallel operations such as querying, loading, and index creation. However, sadness darkened the company as Bob Miner (a founding member of the organization) passed away from cancer. Three years later (1997), Oracle8 was publicly available, and included support for object-relational features as well as VLDB support. The company made a strategic decision to provide support for the Java programming language, realizing the importance that the Internet would play in the coming years.

In 1998, Oracle added support for the Linux operating system, going directly against Microsoft. And, in fact, investing time and money in non–Microsoft solutions, such as the "network computers" concept as described by Larry Ellison in 1996.

By 1999 Oracle8i was publicly available, including support for the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), and was in fact Internet-enabled (hence the i in the name). The company had now grown to more than $8 billion in sales.

The infamous year 2000. The computer systems around the world hadn't crashed around our ears, we're still alive, and Armageddon wasn't here—well, not yet, at least. But Oracle9i was! Larry Ellison became one of the richest men in the world, as Oracle reached more than $10.1 billion in sales, and Microsoft stock took a hammering. Oracle RDBMS is now the number one choice of relational databases for the Internet (e-commerce) and ERP solutions.

As we have seen, Oracle has really made some significant contributions to the IT industry over the years. From the humble beginnings of a company that had only one contract, to achieving more than $10 billion in sales, is momentous. Oracle is an aggressive company, led by an aggressive CEO, but with this aggression the company has made leaps and bounds forward.

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