ARC 2011: Middleware

WINNER: Oracle

Oracle is this year's winner in the CRN Annual Report Card in the Middleware category, a big jump from 2010, when the company's scores put it behind rivals Microsoft and IBM. This year, Oracle outscored IBM in nearly every product innovation, support and partnership criteria--and by significant margins. (Microsoft did not receive enough partner responses to qualify this year.)

But Oracle's performance doesn't come as any surprise to Judson Althoff, Oracle senior vice president of worldwide alliances and channels, and embedded sales. "I would expect us to score well because we're the leading middleware company," he said in an interview at the recent Oracle OpenWorld show.

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But ask Sri Ayyeppen, vice president and CTO at Keste, an Oracle partner, and he quickly cites a number of reasons why he thinks Oracle scored so high. "Specializations is No. 1," he said, referring to the Oracle Partner Network (OPN) initiative under which partners can become certified specialists in 75 specific Oracle products and technologies. That initiative launched at the end of 2009 and has gained momentum in the last year.

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Ayyeppen also pointed to what he described as the improved "clarity" of Oracle's channel program, including clear lines of delineation between which customers Oracle's direct sales representatives sell to and what markets are reserved for partners. He ascribed that to changes made by Mark Hurd, who, in his first year as president, has been making Oracle a more channel-focused company. And he praised the Webinars and other channel-enablement content Oracle has been offering its partners.

But Althoff has a point when it comes to Oracle's Fusion middleware line, which is far and away one of the broadest in the industry. And Oracle is striving to boost its product innovation scores: At the OPN Partner Forum at Oracle OpenWorld, Althoff said Oracle spent $4.5 billion in research and development in fiscal 2011 (ended May 31), up from $3.1 billion just the year before.

In September, Oracle unveiled the Oracle Database Appliance, a product designed exclusively for the channel that all early indications show should be a big hit with resellers.