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Oracle Corp. made a full, frontal assault on the midmarket on Tuesday when it released Oracle Database 10g at a price nearly identical to that of arch-midmarket competitor Microsoft Corp.’s SQL Server database. IBM partners, Microsoft partners and analysts questioned, however, whether Oracle can learn how to pal around with the independent software vendors, systems integrators and value-added resellers that are key to cracking the midmarket.

“I’m not sure a pricing initiative will help them to win the customers they’re not getting,” said Steve Foote, a consultant at Enswers Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. “What I think Microsoft, [for example], has done a better job at is both courting development houses to use SQL Server, plus the product itself is easier to get installed and up and running and to ship a product with.”

Both Microsoft and IBM, makers of two of the biggest and most commonly used databases on the market, have gained good reputations with partners by putting its people down in the trenches with both partners and customers. For example, Intellinet Corp., an Atlanta professional services firm and Microsoft partner in Atlanta, has been involved in product development both in SQL Server 2000 and its upcoming upgrade, code-named Yukon, according to Douglas McDowell, a principal consultant in the firm’s business intelligence practice.

“I personally know the product manager… and lots of program managers have come out to my clients’ [locations] to see what their needs are and how they’re using the product[s], so my clients can get a better idea of where their technology stack is headed,” McDowell said. “When Microsoft sends a product manager or executive-level person to my clients, it’s been, ‘What do you need from our products,’ and, ‘This is where we’re going.’ It’s always been a push-pull of information.”

IBM commands similar respect amongst the firms that partner with a company to put their technologies and services on top of DB2 and WebSphere. One such company is ZipLip Inc., a financial services ISV based in Mountain View, Calif., that markets its software to small to medium-sized businesses.

Stephen Chan, vice president of business development, said that when his company was initially investigating partnering with database companies, company executives were concerned that they’d get lost in the belly of a behemoth like IBM. “They’re such a big company, and we were concerned to see if they could meet the needs of an SMB business. But we realized within a few initial contacts that a lot of their efforts, when we started meeting with them, were focused on meeting the needs of ISVs like ourselves. … I’ve been able to get the answers I need, in a timely fashion, and I don’t have to be as proactive, because they are in there getting the information to me and letting me know about new initiatives that develop and change, and they’re able to get the information to me and understand what my requirements are.”

Oracle has long had a less-stellar reputation for responsiveness. “There’s always been some level of interest in our technologies [on Oracle’s part], but follow-up wasn’t there,” Chan said.

Oracle executives maintain that the company has made big strides when it comes to improving in these areas. Robert Shimp, Oracle vice president of technology marketing, in a conference call with journalists about the 10g launch, said on Tuesday that the company’s current, embedded-licensing program is just part of a “larger story about ISV recruiting and management campaigns”—one that the company plans to put more muscle behind.

“We’ve been working with ISVs for a long time. We’re ratcheting that up with 10g, marketing to them and through them,” Shimp said. Oracle, of Redwood Shores, Calif., is also planning new programs for end users, Shimp said, although he declined to give details.

Not everyone thinks Oracle’s partner skills still lag behind its competitors’. While no Oracle partners could be reached before this story went to press, at least one analyst—Carl Olofson, of IDC, in Framingham, Mass.—said that he’s getting positive feedback regarding Oracle’s progress in this arena. “In the past, they’ve really struggled with this,” Olofson said. “I’m not sure to what extent this is a perception problem” at this point, he said.