Oracle fails to tell attendees the future

All conferences involve a measure of back-slapping, but Oracle has gone too far this year — it's forgotten that it needs to tell attendees about the future.
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor on

All conferences involve a measure of back-slapping, but Oracle has gone too far this year — it's forgotten that it needs to tell attendees about the future.

For starters, the company has failed to give attendees at Oracle OpenWorld insight into the ultimate plan for the series of converged software and hardware appliances — Exadata, Exalogic, Exalytics, the Big Data Appliance and to an extent the Sparc Supercluster — at the centre of its "parallel everything" converged infrastructure strategy.

Every major company has adopted some kind of converged strategy, such as HP with its converged infrastructure, EMC with its vBlocks courtesy of the Virtual Computing Environment coalition, and IBM with its dedication to delivering solutions to customers rather than specific bits of hardware, so what's different about Oracle's approach? Executives haven't said, though company head Larry Ellison did give attendees several reasons why the existing systems are good and revealed that Oracle hoped to sell 3,000 Exadata systems in the coming year, during his keynote on Sunday.

Secondly, Ellison is yet to say what Oracle's strategy of designing software around hardware means for the long term, instead preferring to reiterate how the best systems involve software designed around hardware. The strategy dates from at least 2009 with the launch of the Exadata Version 2 and hardly sets Oracle apart from its contemporaries and rivals — HP and IBM do it, while to a lesser extent Cisco does via its Unified Computing System (UCS) scheme and EMC via its Greenplum converged analytics strategy.

x86 confusion

And then there's the x86 confusion. Ellison used an earnings call recently to say he didn't care if Oracle's x86 commodity server business went to zero, then John Fowler, Oracle's executive vice president of systems, used his keynote on Tuesday to call Ellison's comments "interesting" before stressing Oracle's commitment to the platform. "Intel is a key building block," he said.

The rest of Fowler's keynote on Tuesday was a mixture of technical teases on the upcoming Solaris 11 operating system along with a synopsis of the many successful products Oracle has released recently and why they are, in Fowler's opinion, extremely nice pieces of kit.

Scant strategic detail

When there has been new technology, the company has failed to give an overview of its strategy for it. On Monday Oracle announced it had developed its own NoSQL database and had created tools for open-source data processing framework Hadoop. However, when Thomas Kurian, Oracle's head of product development, announced it in a keynote on Monday he spent less than five minutes on the announcement and dedicated the rest of his speech to past successes.

Shouldn't there be more information given about the strategy when Oracle — a database company — develops an open-source data processing framework? Here, again, confusion rears its head as the company seems conflicted about the merit of NoSQL as well - in May it published a whitepaper called Debunking the NoSQL hype that presented reasons to be wary of the technology.

Confusing event scheduling

And then there is the agenda, which has changed over the course of the conference, growing lighter in terms of press question-and-answer sessions with Oracle executives and heavier by a surprise previously-unannounced keynote focused on the cloud on Thursday. According to Oracle spokespeople, the Thursday keynote has taken many of Oracle’s internal and external PR team by surprise.

Adding fuel to the fire, some of the cancellations were done at the last minute: on Tuesday an Oracle systems question-and-answer session, and a Dell one, were both cancelled on the day with the Dell one cancelled minutes before it was due to begin. Why? On Tuesday evening Salesforce's keynote for Wednesday was cancelled as well, according to the company's chief executive Marc Benioff.

Few words from Hurd

New Oracle arrival Mark Hurd has, so far, been little more than a compere. His main statement to attendees on Monday was that Oracle's strategy is to have the "best technology at every single layer of the stack, and we want to give the customer choice in how to access that technology." It would be surprising if a major technology vendor didn't want to have the best possible hardware in its systems, or to give customers choice. By ZDNet UK's reckoning, when Hurd was on stage he spent more time watching videos that told of Oracle's successes in 2010 and 2011 and less time actually talking.

All in all, when set against how other major companies deal with keynotes and major events, Oracle so far seems to lack ambition. Intel used its keynotes at the Intel Developer Forum a few weeks ago to show it hoped to weave together multiple technologies to create a supercomputer orders of magnitude faster than any operating today so it could tackle the computing challenges likely to rear their head by the end of the decade. At HP Discover earlier in the year HP gave further details on its ambitious cloud strategy, while VMware used VMworld to tell of how it was going to radically change its research and development strategy to embrace mobile devices.

Larry Ellison is due to take the stage on Wednesday for a keynote, perhaps that will be when he reveals the future Oracle sees.

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