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Sun 9 Mar 2008 04:00 AM

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ACN looks at some of the biggest hitters in the software market that will influence enterprises for the years to come.

ACN looks at some of the biggest hitters in the software market that will influence enterprises for the years to come.

While on-demand services are starting to cut in to the traditional software market, major vendors are still alive and well, and pushing the latest - and supposedly greatest - software offerings.

New products are coming in the market that takes advantage of the latest developments in the coder's art.

Oracle sources have revealed that all customisations for Oracle E-Business Suite pre version 12 will cease to work under Fusion.

A key trend that is driving the release of new software offerings is the large number of acquisitions that are coming to fruition across the industry.

Most conspicuous among these is Oracle, whose spending spree over the past few years has delivered it a substantial pile of new technology, all of which must - in theory - be integrated with its existing offerings, and its other recent acquisitions.

This has led to the development of Oracle Fusion, a bold attempt to bring many of the vendor's largest purchases together. But while Oracle favours the integration approach, other companies, such as CA, are taking a much more disparate view of software offerings.

Another buyout junkie, CA has recently streamlined its packages, in an attempt to offer more clarity into the value it believes it can offer to enterprises.

The firm has also gone on the offensive, bringing out new products while bolstering some of its longer-serving offerings.

Other companies, such as Microsoft, have sought to plug significant holes in their portfolios through acquisitions.

In the case of the Redmond giant, it is now hard at work bringing much of its user-friendliness to products such as its Navision and Great Plains purchases.

For enterprises looking at developing their own roadmaps for future software deployments, knowing what is round the corner can be vital to the planning process - although not always in ways the vendors are happy with, should a sneak peek at the future lead to a decision not to buy in to that range.

Outlined below are a few of the recent or announced releases that will be shaping enterprise IT environments in the years to come.

Everything below comes with a disclaimer - these are not the opinions of analysts, and are based on publicly-available knowledge, so are not designed to make detailed buying decisions, for example.

And, of course, much of the material in this article is subject to change, in the case of any forthcoming releases.

Oracle fusion

Not so much a new software product as a mammoth project to bring together apps including JDEdwards, PeopleSoft, Siebel and E-Business Suite, Fusion has had a decidedly mixed reception.
Oracle's typically ambitious rhetoric at the inception of Fusion suggested to many that existing customers of the affected products may be forced into upgrading to the new all-encompassing platform.

This sparked such concern among application users - especially those which had been running the systems before Oracle bought out their vendors - that Oracle has been forced into a very public campaign to reassure customers that there will be no compulsory upgrades, and that individual products will continue to be supported well into the future, even if they are not to be developed as separate entities.

Concerns aside, there is much to be said for the concepts around Oracle Fusion.

The vendor's apparent ambition to become the leading business software provider in the world will be greatly bolstered with a more integrated offering than the current disparate range of home-grown and - mostly - acquired products.

Fusion will also bring its applications into line with Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) principles, making them much more interesting in the longer term to potential and current customers.

The downside of this is that Fusion involves substantial re-engineering of the systems under review - more, it seems than Oracle had anticipated.

Although it is set to make its 2008 deadline for a release of Fusion, this will only be a beta offering, and on current timing is due only at the end of the year.

Worse, Oracle sources have revealed that all existing customisations for Oracle E-Business Suite pre version 12 will now cease to work under the new version of Fusion being released.

As and when the full release comes in 2009 (on current schedule), this may cause significant numbers of customers - the majority of which have substantial customisation in place - to be very cautious about any future upgrades.

Microsoft Windows Server 2008

The newest version of Microsoft's server operating system has already been on selected release, with hand-picked customers trialling the system before its general release - all the better to produce cheerful end users to discuss the OS with their peers.

The vendor is confident about this release, which brings together some useful technology tweaks, and one big new feature - the hypervisor.

The hypervisor technology - called Hyper-V by the vendor - is critical to making virtualisation a success for Microsoft.

To date, a new breed of specialist virtualisation providers, led into the charge by VMware, have gobbled up much of the market for the emerging enterprise technology.

But with Server 2008's bundled hypervisor functionality, Microsoft aims to crash VMware's party and snatch back market share for itself.
As previous bundling of software with operating systems has shown - albeit more in the consumer space, as with Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player - this strategy can be extremely effective at taking markets away from first movers.

Microsoft is playing it much more cannily this time with respect to the competition regulators in the US and Europe - it is releasing eight different versions of Server 2008, only some of which will include Hyper-V.

This is fairly nominal, as in US pricing at least, the actual difference between Hyper-V and non-Hyper-V versions is to be US$28 - the same price Microsoft offers it for in a standalone version.

As to the effectiveness of the Microsoft hypervisor, reports are still emerging - but it seems to have been generally well received, despite niggles such as language issues outside the United States.

Microsoft will be up against not just VMware but also the increasing number of virtualisation entrants, so getting Hyper-V right early on will be critical to its long-term success. In this sector. But if ever there's a company that can corner a software market, it's Microsoft - especially at $28.

Microsoft dynamics

Away from Microsoft's core competency of operating systems comes its fairly recent serious foray into the business applications market.

Following acquisitions which brought in the Navision, Great Plains and Axapta product lines, Microsoft has brought them all together under the Dynamics brand, and given the packages snappy new titles - NAV, GP and AX in the case of the above.

The changes have been much more than cosmetic, though - Microsoft has kept on much of the original development teams behind the acquired systems, and they have continued to develop the software, and added in some core Microsoft functionality both in the front end, and in terms of integration with other Microsoft products - notably Microsoft Office.

By putting some effort into these areas - which might be seen by some as mere window dressing - Microsoft is aiming to attract enterprises that would baulk at the massive scale of an Oracle or SAP deployment, but would be keen to continue using its Excel spreadsheets as core business tools.

While many of these businesses exist in the lower end of the SMB space, usability is becoming an increasing issue for all enterprises - and provided the back end supplies an adequate amount of functionality, Microsoft is betting increasing numbers of firms will be persuaded by its ERP and CRM offerings.

The vendor will start to unveil the very latest versions of its Dynamics suite this year, with solutions from Microsoft's myriad partners to follow soon afterwards.

Although Dynamics is currently focused on the SMB space, Microsoft aims to move up the enterprise ladder. and bring in larger customers to its business software fold.

Its business leaders are certainly talking the talk, but whether the software can walk the enterprise walk remains to be seen.

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