The Direction of Oracle’s Spatial Strategy

By Joe Francica

If you want to learn anything about Oracle Spatial, you'll end up talking to Xavier Lopez.Mr.Lopez travels extensively extolling the features and benefits of Oracle's location technology.Direction's Magazine editor Joe Francica compiled a series of questions for Mr.Lopez to allow him to qualify some of the recent product configuration changes and and other business decisions taken by Oracle in light of a shifting market.>

Joe Francica (JF): There has been a shift in the configuration of how Oracle database is offered to customers.Can you go into detail about the options customers now have to purchase Oracle products that support spatial content, such as Oracle Locator vs.Oracle Spatial.Why and when would they choose one vs.the other?

XL: Today, every Oracle9i database is by definition a "spatial database".There are two versions of our database, Oracle9i Standard Edition and Enterprise Edition.Both support Oracle Locator, a recently introduced no-cost feature, on every Oracle database.Oracle Locator was developed as a spatial database backend to be used in combination with 3rd party GIS tools, or where limited spatial operators and a limited set of spatial functions are required from the database (e.g., enterprise and wireless location services).

Oracle Spatial, our high-end spatial option, is available on Oracle Enterprise Edition.It provides advanced spatial functions (including area, buffer, centroid calculations), advanced coordinate systems support, linear referencing systems, versioning, and spatial aggregate functions.Oracle Spatial provides these complex features for users that want to move all their GIS processing directly to the database server.This is the case for users in oil and gas, outside plant management, transportation, and any GIS solution that wants to leverage server-side spatial processing.

JF: What improvements and functionality have been added to Oracle9i both within Oracle Locator and Oracle Spatial?

XL: Significant performance enhancements have been added to our location capabilities since the first release of Oracle9i release in 2001. There can be anywhere from a 2X to a 8X performance improvements in R-tree indexing, spatial queries and validation operations.New feature enhancements include: geodetic coordinate support, function-based indexing, spatial aggregate functions, partitioning support, object replication, and parallelism.

During this time, Oracle also released the Oracle9iAS MapViewer, a J2EE component for rendering maps using spatial data managed by Oracle Spatial or Locator.MapViewer is specifically designed as a rendering tool for deploying Location-Based services and location-enabled e-Business apps.

JF: Please explain, as best you can, what you foresee coming in the future.Will Topology be the main addition?

XL: The kinds of things you will see in the upcoming release of Oracle Spatial are high-end features that customers and partners have been requesting for some time: topology management, georeferenced raster support, spatial analysis functions, and significant performance enhancements.

  1. Topology will provide the management of shared geometry and network data in the database, as required by complex land information systems.
  2. New Georaster support enables management of georeferenced raster data; georaster will provide a multi- and hyper-spectral data management for repositories that grow to multi-terabytes.
  3. Spatial Analysis introduces some important new server-based spatial analysis capabilities like: classification, binning, association, and spatial correlation that are essential for business intelligence applications.
  4. Performance enhancements to both Oracle Spatial and Locator: Spatial index updates are at least 40% faster.Location queries will also execute faster using the parallel spatial query on partitioned spatial indexes.Spatial data inserts will run up to 6 times faster using deferred spatial indexes.
In addition to these new features, we work closely with our GIS technology partners to ensure that they will able to leverage these new features in their forthcoming product releases.

JF: In terms of indexing the database, what is the reason for supporting both R-tree and quadtree indexes? Is it primarily in tuning the database or for another performance-related purpose?

XL: Oracle Spatial and Locator support both quadtree and R-tree spatial indexes.Quadtree indexing was introduced with the Oracle 8.0 release and R-tree indexing was introduced two years later in our 8i release.Although quadtree indexes are very powerful, some of our customers felt that they could be a challenge to properly tune.To make data maintenance easier and to provide a spatial indexing solution for multiple dimensions, we introduced R-tree indexes that are self-tuning and provide multi-dimensional index support.Our R-tree index has been so successful in terms of performance and ease of use that it has become the spatial index of choice for nearly all types of deployments.

JF: Have you targeted Oracle Locator specifically at the wireless location-based services market or will it support other enterprise location applications?

XL: Oracle Locator is very useful for both the wireless and enterprise markets.Beginning in 2002, every Oracle9i database (both Standard and Enterprise Editions) has the Locator feature that delivers spatial data type, R-tree index and spatial operators, at no additional cost.In order to make location-enabled applications ubiquitous across every organization, we made our location capability in Locator ubiquitous.Oracle Locator addresses three specific market sectors:

  • For GIS tool users seeking a low-cost spatial database platform.Oracle Locator provides the benefits of from open storage, indexing, and spatial query capability to those who cannot justify the expense of purchasing Oracle Enterprise Edition and the Spatial option.Users can then use their GIS tools for more complex functions (e.g., union, intersect, linear referencing) and activities (map rendering, application development).
  • Enterprise Location Services (i.e., embedding location information inside standard business applications).Since nearly all business applications use relational database technology, Oracle now makes it possible to provide location-enabled call centers, customer relationship, supply chain, asset management, field service, and business intelligence by providing location management directly from the application's relational database.Oracle's own 11i eBusiness Suite now leverages this functionality in every solution.
  • Mobile Location Services: Locator is well suited to carry out the relatively simple spatial operations required by wireless location-based services, Internet-based business locators, and telematics solutions.The world's leading wireless 3G deployments (e.g.NTT DoCoMo, JPhone, KDDI, Hutchinson 3G) already use Oracle's location technologies for their LBS solutions.
It has often been said that 80-90% of business databases include location information.The reason for Locator was to make sure that every Oracle database now includes the spatial functionality needed to take advantage of this information.This location information can be represented as coordinate points (e.g., addresses) or as lines (e.g., street networks) or polygons (administrative boundaries).The availability of Oracle Locator is making significant inroads toward taking "GIS" technology mainstream.

The availability of Oracle Locator has also resulted in changes to how the Oracle sales team positions this technology.Trained pre-sales teams were previously needed to effectively position Oracle Spatial technology to customers.This is no longer the case.Oracle customers now understand the concept of location-enabling their business intelligence solutions. Oracle Locator has also made it easy for our sales representatives to effectively differentiate our location-enabled Oracle database from that of our competitors. And our overall sales force leverages Oracle's location technologies to position and differentiate our enterprise database, application server, and eBusiness applications in each respective vertical business.

JF: Now that there has been a significant downturn in the LBS market, do you think the move to differentiate Oracle's product line was premature? Have you seen any increase in product sales into the LBS space because if the differentiation?

XL: I don't think we were premature at all.Although the deployment of customer-facing LBS deployments by wireless carriers has slowed, LBS should be viewed more broadly than simply the delivery of maps and driving directions to mobile devices.Wireless carriers are incorporating location into their front and back office applications in order to make their business more efficient and to create a positive business experience for their customers and partners.By integrating enterprise information with location-enhanced customer information, organizations obtain more comprehensive business intelligence.Mobile operators are well positioned to use real customer information to determine wireless service expansion, improve service delivery, and determine load demands.And these activities are generating positive ROI.Similarly, other types of enterprise operations like fleet management, asset tracking, customer care, and supply chain operations can benefit from location-enabling their activities.

Oracle Spatial has been fundamental in launching a number of very successful wireless LBS deployments worldwide.For example, in early 2002, JPhone, Japan's number three wireless carrier, was the first to offer the ability to deliver color maps to GPRS phones as part of their LBS service.The J-Phone J-Navi LBS applications were written in Java and run on Oracle Spatial.Java Server scripts running in the database and mid-tier provide lightweight and scalable geocoding, map rendering, and location capability. This particular deployment runs nearly all of its LBS functions directly from the spatial database and is able to achieve scalability requirements of 30,000 user sessions per hour.The results is the ability to deliver over 1 million color vector and raster maps per day to a new class of General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) enabled multimedia handsets.The average query processing is less than 200ms, and average download time is two seconds.

The J-Phone deployment, in combination with partner technologies and services, leverages performance-enhancing features like caching, parallelism, partitioning, and high availability.This is particularly relevant to wireless location-based applications where new application components may need to be created and enhanced regularly to differentiate service offerings.The two other leading Japanese carriers -- NTT DoCoMo (#1) and KDDI (#2) and their partners -- also use Oracle database technology and application server infrastructure for the deployment of their advanced LBS content services. In Europe, Hutchinson 3G recently launched its own LBS services using Oracle Spatial as its spatial data engine.The reason these carriers have gone with Oracle is the proven performance and scalability benefits of our spatial technology.

Our early experiences deploying large carrier-grade LBS solutions helped ensure that our Oracle9i Application Server (9iAS) Wireless Edition is also location-ready.For example, new LBS features were recently incorporated into Oracle9iAS like: OpenLS XML interfaces, location privacy management, friend finder infrastructure, map rendering tool, and region modeling utilities. These features work with the leading 3rd party mapping, geocoding and routing tools to bring the necessary reliability, security, and scalability for wireless and enterprise LBS applications.In short, the slow-down in the industry has allowed us to catch up and deliver the kind of carrier-grade LBS software infrastructure the industry was calling for.

JF: What would be the primary reason that a customer would choose Locator vs.Spatial? What would you consider the threshold between the need for Spatial vs a deployment of Locator only?

XL: Oracle Locator and Oracle Spatial each provide the necessary functionality functionality required by unique market segments.Oracle Locator is designed for location-enabling enterprise applications and as a spatial database back-end for GIS applications from other vendors.It provides a spatial type, indexing and limited features sufficient to support most LBS and location-enabled enterprise applications.

In contrast, Oracle Spatial is a spatial data engine for complex spatial/GIS solutions.Oracle Spatial is our high-end product, delivering advanced features like: coordinate transformations, linear referencing, and spatial buffer, union, and intersection functions directly in the database server. The upcoming release of Oracle Spatial will feature GeoRaster and Topology management, along with some spatial analysis and mining functions.

JF: How would you differentiate between Laser-Scan's Radius Topology and Oracle Spatial?

Actually there's not much to differentiate.LaserScan's Radius technology adds value to Oracle Spatial by providing a unique topology management solution on Oracle9i.This is critical functionality that our customers in mapping organizations are looking to - to persistently store topological information in Oracle9i.Radius reduces risk and implementation costs since it is transparent to third party GIS and mapping tools that query the spatial database.We're quite excited about Radius Topology since it guarantees the consistency of the simple feature and topological data, while also maintaining openness to any 3rd party mapping client.

JF: Oracle seems to have pulled away from some of the business partnerships with GIS companies that were once highly promoted.What reorganization prompted this and what can you tell us about the current organization?

XL: We really haven't changed our position regarding partners at all.Partnerships with GIS vendors are essential to our business strategy, and to our customers.I can't think of any major account in land management, government, telco, energy, or financial services where we are not working with partners.So we really have not "pulled away" from partners at all.

Two things have changed.First, there has been a significant consolidation in the GIS market and in the market for spatial database technology.So a good deal of our emphasis has been focused on product integration, to assure that the products from the key partners are able to deliver open, reliable, secure, and scalable solutions on our server technology.

All the big GIS vendors have released new and enhanced versions of their products on Oracle9i.To be fair, I'll do an alphabetical list - Autodesk, Bentley, ESRI, GE Smallworld, Intergraph, and MapInfo have all come out with products that use more and more features of Oracle9i.Just this year, Intergraph has done a tremendous amount of work with Spatial and Workspace Manager, ESRI was one of the first RAC-compliant products, MapInfo has solutions built on our wireless LBS framework, and Autodesk has just released an accelerated MapGuide 6 with support for Oracle Spatial, Locator and Oracle9iAS.

And we continue to work with systems integrators and data providers and up and coming companies in the industry.NavTech, Tele Atlas and GDT are delivering data in Oracle Spatial format - these are incredibly important partnerships.We're working with companies like eSpatial, LaserScan, ObjectFX, PCI, Questerra, Safe, Skyline, Snowflake, Telcontar and TransDecisions, on great solutions for the marketplace.For example, eSpatial, is setting the standard for European Agriculture monitoring projects with their multi-terabyte, location-enabled, enterprise asset management solution for the Irish Agriculture Ministry, while Questerra has launched a ground breaking online location-enabled web services to insurance and retail enterprises.

We have also established new partnerships outside the traditional GIS market.These include companies representing application service providers, wireless infrastructure providers, wireless handset makers, telematics vendors, and life sciences.These activities are helping to make Oracle Spatial the standard in these domains.So our organization reflects the mainstreaming of location technology throughout Oracle that I've mentioned earlier.With every Oracle database, the Oracle9i Application Server, the Oracle eBusiness Suite being location-enabled, every part of Oracle supports and promotes location as a differentiating feature.So this has meant that there is a broader reach for this technology in Oracle than ever before, but perhaps in a different context.

JF: The competition, IBM and Microsoft specifically, has not seemed to have emphasized location-based functionality, even though DB2 Spatial Extender and Informix Datablade are still promoted.Do you expect this to change?

XL: Oracle has a huge lead over IBM and Microsoft in spatial databases.A recent (December 2002) IDC report found that Oracle holds 80-90% share of the spatial database management market.This lead is growing, as Oracle Locator becomes the choice with location-enabled enterprise business applications and wireless LBS solutions.They also predict that location and spatial support will become ubiquitous in databases, application servers, and the rest of the technology infrastructure used in mainstream application development.You can see this happening everywhere as proximity, location acquisition, tracking, and other location-dependent attributes are being incorporated into business applications.So obviously we view location technologies as a fundamental aspect of our products.

JF: What can we expect from Oracle in terms of advancing the support of the OGC's initiatives in Simple Features Specifications, OpenLS, Critical Infrastructure Protection Initiative (CIPI), and Web Services?

XL: As you know, Oracle participates extensively in OGC activities since we have a common interest -- enabling geospatial technologies to be adopted into mainstream computing.In addition to being a founding member, we are on the board of directors, we're a principal member, and are active participants in the Technical and Planning Committees.Oracle was the first mainstream IT vendor to pass OGC conformance testing for the Simple Features specification in 1999.Last year we undertook successful conformance testing for Oracle Spatial release 9i and 9i R2.We are also closely involved in other OGC specifications like Geographic Mark-up Language (GML), Open Location Services (OpenLS), and Web Map Server (WMS).You can expect to see ongoing participation and leadership from Oracle in OGC related standards-setting activities.

Oracle is also working with the SQL3 standards body to define additional SQL extensions for spatial data.We are also active members of the ISO and ANSI Geographic Information Systems (GIS) standards groups.Oracle's implementation of technology for spatial information management is in line with the current direction of these standards, easing future migration. Oracle's broad commitment and participation in these initiatives helps ensure consistency among the various standards groups and ensures Oracle's product lines adhere to the standards and their direction.

JF: As you know, New Directions (January 23, 2003) recently challenged the geospatial industry and leading CEO's to demonstrate ways in which spatial tools are being used outside the traditional GIS space in a broader, enterprise context.Would you care to comment on this from Oracle's perspective?

XL: As I mentioned previously, our eBusiness Suite applications is now location-enabled.This didn't happen by building a GIS application and bolting it onto our eBusiness applications.Rather, this resulted from our efforts to location-enable the underlying software infrastructure (e.g., spatial database and applications server).Oracle believes in using its own location capabilities to differentiate its applications.This is an ongoing effort and in future releases we will be increasing the number of spatially enabled eBusiness Suite application modules.We will also be recruiting third party application vendors so that they too can incorporate the location capability native to that database into their applications. In doing so, we are one step further in making location an inherent feature of mainstream IT computing.And this, I believe, will be healthy for the IT industry and for vendors in the GIS industry.

For more information on Oracle Spatial and Locator click either for Business-related or Technical topics.

Published Wednesday, February 12th, 2003

Written by Joe Francica

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