I was at Marc Benioff’s subversive non-keynote at Oracle OpenWorld yesterday, and while it was fun to see all the hoopla (employees holding posters of Benioff cast as a dissident, shouting, honking, donuts, cocktails), it was also cool to have the "I was there when" moment as Oracle’s future biggest competitor draws the lines of battle that are likely to shape the enterprise software industry for the next decade. Truth be told, I think that Benioff was a bit too caught up in the fuss and the cloudwash to make me think he’s a mature and credible competitor yet, but he is clearly getting his gumption up.
Benioff pointed a finger at Exadata as a new mainframe, locking customers into proprietary hardware and forcing them to buy over-expensive gear from an industry monolith. He described his own company as “open,” allowing customers to move to any platform or any cloud; "philanthropic," donating $24 million in grants and using their OOW booth as an engine for giving; and "social," leveraging their internal social media engine Chatter to coordinate their rapid mobilization to deliver the non-keynote within 16 hours of being cancelled by Larry. And all of that is cool, but I think he skewed to tech industry buzz rather than focus on the real competitive forces between Oracle and Salesforce.
OK, out of respect for your time, now that I’ve caught you with a title that promises some drama I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that I definitely lean toward the former. Having spent a couple of days here at Oracle Open World poking around the various flavors of Engineered Systems, including the established Exadata and Exalogic along with the new SPARC Super Cluster (all of a week old) and the newly announced Exalytic system for big data analytics, I am pretty convinced that they represent an intelligent and modular set of optimized platforms for specific workloads. In addition to being modular, they give me the strong impression of a “composable” architecture – the various elements of processing nodes, Oracle storage nodes, ZFS file nodes and other components can clearly be recombined over time as customer requirements dictate, either as standard products or as custom configurations.
In the good old days, computer industry trade shows were bigger than life events – booths with barkers and actors, ice cream and espresso bars and games in the booth, magic acts and surging crowds gawking at technology. In recent years, they have for the most part become sad shadows of their former selves. The great SHOWS are gone, replaced with button-down vertical and regional events where you are lucky to get a pen or a miniature candy bar for your troubles.
Enter Oracle OpenWorld. Mix 45,000 people, hundreds of exhibitors, one of the world’s largest software and systems company looking to make an impression, and you have the new generation of technology extravaganza. The scale is extravagant, taking up the entire Moscone Center complex (N, S and W) along with a couple of hotel venues, closing off a block of a major San Francisco street for a week, and throwing a little evening party for 20 or 30 thousand people.
But mixed with the hoopla, which included wheel of fortune giveaways that had hundreds of people snaking around the already crowded exhibition floor in serpentine lines, mini golf and whack-a-mole-games in the exhibit booths along with the aforementioned espresso and ice cream stands, there was genuine content and the public face of some significant trends. So far, after 24 hours, some major messages come through loud and clear: