Oracle Open World -- Fireworks And Focus

It’s been a few weeks since the extravaganza that was Oracle Open World 2010, and I wanted to post a few words about what I came away thinking.  Aside from the genuine America's Cup guarded by large men with earphones and white gloves, BMX stunts on closed San Francisco streets, Oktoberfest and the Black Eyed Peas, Don Henley and The Steve Miller Band, I’d have to call the event, well, slightly understated. Admittedly, I don’t know much about the world of middleware, so the big ticket product launch of Exalogic was largely lost on me, although it may well be a huge deal to those in the know. There was drama with Mark Hurd’s appearance after his recent hiring; Larry’s never been one to avoid stepping on toes so he was willing to antagonize a huge partner that shared the stage on his keynote. This Oracle/HP friction is an unavoidable reality of the era of co-opetition as Oracle transitions from being a software company that partners with hardware companies to becoming a one stop shop and a competitor to those partners. In fact it’s pretty similar to the dissing of NetApp, EMC and HDS that Larry doled out last year when he announced Exadata, but HP looked better in that round as they were the hardware partner before the Sun acquisition. Did you think Larry was going to become a hardware vendor without burning (or at least heating up) some bridges with partners?

Look past the hoopla and what struck me was the laser focus that Oracle is showing as they transform themselves into a true IT mega-vendor with the world’s leading database at its core. Here are some of the most striking elements of this as I see it:

  • The Sun integration seems to be going far better than many had expected. Yes there are some bruised egos and some good people have left, but this could have gone a lot worse. Sun was on a downward trajectory for a long time, and was still struggling with the vast culture gap between StorageTek and Sun. It feels very different now, and everybody seems to be on the same team in a way that didn’t happen before. Most of the Sun/StorageTek people I talked to seem to be happy with or at least open to the discipline and focus on execution that had been lacking for some time in the Sun regime.
  • Unlike practically every other vendor in the infrastructure space, Oracle’s strategy is not tied to VMware affinity. The fact that they’re not spinning their wheels on this is a big differentiator that allows them to control their own destiny when other vendors are more dependent on partnering and API integration. Oracle won’t turn down the business if customers want to use elements of the Sun portfolio to support VMware environments, but it’s not a big part of their message or approach. This is an example of the tight focus on infrastructure wrapped around the core database and applications that will be Oracle’s biggest differentiator as they compete more earnestly with HP, IBM, EMC, Cisco, etc.
  • The Exadata testimonials were compelling. The concept of pre-configured solutions that are tuned to deliver better performance for Oracle database apps seems to be resonating with buyers that are sick of having to figure it out themselves. Building a solution on the customer floor around products from different vendors specializing in applications, databases, operating systems, servers, HBAs, NICs, Ethernet Networking, SAN networking, storage, replication and backup products is a nightmare. Buying it ready to go from one vendor makes sense, and Oracle is slowly but methodically building a following of reference customers that are pointing to success in doing it in their environments. I’m starting to hear more about it from Forrester customers as well, so I tend to believe that this is real. Oracle needs to enable consolidation of multiple applications on Exadata instances to make it more useful, but they are getting there.
  • Tape is still alive for Oracle. There was much speculation that Oracle would ditch much of the legacy backup products that came from StorageTek, but I disagree. A great deal of the tape in the world is holding data that came from Oracle databases, so you have to recognize that it’s part of the data lifecycle that Oracle needs to own. Tape is still the cheapest way to hold large quantities of data for long periods of time, and the event had enough focus on it to make me think that Oracle sees it as both relevant and strategic.

All that and it was a pretty good party too.