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9/15/2010
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Bob Evans
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Global CIO: Larry Ellison's Top 10 Priorities At Oracle Open World

New Exadata machines, Mark Hurd's new role, the status of MySQL and Java, and more will be on Larry Ellison's mind at Oracle Open World this coming week.



This weekend, 40,000 of the Oracle faithful will pour into San Francisco, maxing out the city's hotels, swamping the Thirsty Bear and its world-class IPA, stressing every eatery within 3 blocks of Moscone Center, and—with Oracle's logo emblazoned everywhere—turning that extraordinary city even redder than usual (and I say that with all due respect).

For Oracle, the extravaganza provides a monumental opportunity for calibrating the mood of its varied constituencies: enterprise customers eager to see Oracle's new products but leery of its aggressive aspirations; partners who love being part of Oracle's vast ecosystem but dread the prospect Oracle expanding directly into their sectors; and developers who run the gamut from eagerly exploiting Oracle's huge installed technology base to stridently opposing the company's plans (or rumored plans) for its open-source products.

Amid all of that activity are hundreds of technical sessions, hundreds of exhibitors, multiple keynotes (including one from new co-president Mark Hurd, which should be a treat), and perhaps even a T-shirt protest, although for an SF event like this it could be hard to tell the protesters from the regulars.

But by far the most-compelling element of the entire 5-day mega-show will be the public comments of CEO Larry Ellison. While Ellison always draws a huge crowd and frequently enjoys playing to those crowds with some intentionally provocative comments, I think the showmanship angle of his presentations is vastly overstated.

Rather, I think, lots of people want to hear what Ellison has to say because for whatever combination of reasons, Ellison is a profoundly influential force in the market today, and the strategies he lays out and the positions he stakes and the enemies he makes combine to reverberate far beyond Oracle itself and are felt, often jarringly, across all those constituent sets of customers and prospects and partners and stakeholders and, perhaps most of all, competitors.

So looking closely at what Oracle's been doing for the past year or so, I would argue that these are the Top 10 strategic issues that Ellison will focus on in is public comments at Oracle Open World.

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And the one common thread across all 10 of these issues is that their relevance and influence will radiate far beyond Oracle itself and will touch most or even all sectors of the IT business and its customers.

Here's my Top 10 list, ranked in order of scale of impact:

1) New Exadata machines. Three months ago, Ellison said Exadata 2 Database Machine was on a billion-dollar annual revenue run rate and he called it the most successful new product in the company's history. He also cited it as the core rationale for acquiring Sun, and is using it as his primary battering ram to attempt to topple IBM as the world's leading systems company. THE UPSHOT: I'd look for new Exadata machines in the areas of BI, app servers, virtualization, and perhaps even a vertical-industry sector or two.

2) The HP alliance: alive or dead? In spite of the long-standing strategic alliance between the two companies, Ellison in the past several weeks has brazenly taunted and insulted HP's board over its ouster of former CEO Mark Hurd and then over its subsequent lawsuit attempting to prevent Hurd from joining Oracle. And that board is suing Hurd because it believes he might disclose HP's proprietary plans and strategies within Oracle. We all know that the IT business can make for strange bedfellows, but when one's holding dynamite and the other's wielding a blowtorch, no one's going to sleep comfortably. THE UPSHOT: Ellison needs to address this, and I'm betting he tells HP to get lost.

3) Mark Hurd's role. I've argued before that at Oracle, Hurd won't be spending too much time applying his vaunted cost-cutting and efficiency skills because those activities are already handled with extreme effectiveness and tight control by Hurd's parallel co-president, Safra Catz. Ellison's said he wants to be the greatest systems company in the world, and while Sun has given Oracle a lot of tools to work with, I'm not sure they scale up to that lofty vision set by Ellison. THE UPSHOT: Ellison will say he wants Hurd to create or acquire additional hardware resources that can be quickly assimilated from the pure hardware world into the world-class systems powerhouse the CEO has called for.

4) Oracle's cloud strategy. Oracle has lots of pieces here, and Ellison hasn't cut loose for quite a while with one of his cloud-lunacy rants, but enterprise customers don't want to spec out and buy hundreds of standalone cloud components and then spend the next 8 months tinkering and wiring them all together—Ellison himself has said so. THE UPSHOT: Ellison will announce a new cloud-computing product line within Oracle, and perhaps even a dedicated cloud-computing business unit, to reflect even his willingness to accede to customer demand.

5) Fusion apps. I thought about putting these in the #1 slot, and while I'm not pooh-poohing their significance to Oracle and its customers over the next 3-5 years, I believe the far greater short-term value for both of those two groups will come from new and fully available Exadata machines and via greater clarity from Oracle regarding its strategy and product lineups for cloud computing, mobile, and storage. THE UPSHOT: I think Fusion apps will become available in January and that Oracle will be content with a fairly slow and steady rollout of what it believes will be a revolutionary new set of applications and underlying interconnectedness with middleware.

6) Oracle's mobile strategy. Without a set of specific solutions for giving mobile users the best possible access to and control over Oracle's apps, Oracle appears to have a glaring hole in its product line and strategy—and I'm not saying that merely because SAP bought Sybase for precisely that reason. That hole won't be filled until Oracle, either through partnerships or through an acquisition, gives customers the equivalent of SAP's three-pronged strategy: on-premise, on-demand, and on-device (mobile). THE UPSHOT:

I have heard very little or no talk from Oracle about this becoming a top priority and I don't expect that to change over the next week. Conversely, as SAP makes mobility a centerpiece of its strategy, Oracle's mobility gap takes on some significant risk.

7) Competing against IBM. True to form, Ellison this year has said his Exadata 2 machine can thrash comparable systems from IBM in performance as well as cost. It probably won't shock you to hear that IBM believes quite the opposite, and the bigger point here is that while Oracle has made some strides with fleshing out a hardware strategy from Sun's products and technologies, IBM has been on a tear this year with its revamped offerings, now ranging from x86 servers to Power 7 servers and all the way up to the new z196 mainframe running the world's fastest chips (made by IBM, of course). THE UPSHOT: I think Ellison will use the launch of a few new Exadata-type machines to reiterate, in unmistakably blunt terms, that Oracle won't rest until it pulls IBM into an all-out battle for supremacy in the optimized-systems business.

8) Competing with SAP. Ellison declared that the war with SAP for supremacy in enterprise apps will be based on two things: Fusion's modern architecture versus SAP's antiquated and inflexible underlying technology; and, on the superior industry-specific functionality of Oracle's apps over SAP's. THE UPSHOT: SAP has shifted the grounds of the debate by releasing Tuesday a slew of real-time analytics solutions, and until Oracle responds with something more than just a promise that 'Fusion is coming—Fusion is coming!', SAP will hold or possibly extend its lead over Oracle in enterprise apps.

9) Java: what's the plan? I don't mean a map to help you find a "Free Java" T-shirt; rather, how Oracle chooses to exercise its control over Java when thousands of software companies use it extensively. Maybe I need glasses, but I don't see Larry Ellison giving in on this one. THE UPSHOT: If Ellison does end up mentioning Java in any of his public comments, I think those remarks will be limited to the fact that Oracle's new Fusion apps have been written in Java.

10) MySQL: what's the plan? Similar to #9: the world outside of Oracle can howl about implied promises and shared/open control and Free Willy and all that, but Ellison's decision will be based on what's best for Oracle and on conforming to the 10 developer/customer commitments Oracle made to the EU to win approval for the Sun acquisition. THE UPSHOT: I'll bet chief corporate architect Edward Screven, who's responsible for the MySQL business, will share some customer testimonials saying that Oracle's being a fair and transparent steward of MySQL. If Oracle has some customers saying that, then the "open source advocates" can screech like roasted cats but it won't make a bit of difference to Ellison and Oracle.

See you in SF.

RECOMMENDED READING

Global CIO: As HP And Oracle Brawl, IBM And SAP Snatch Customers

Global CIO: IBM And Oracle Expose Hewlett-Packard's Achilles' Heel

Global CIO: In Hurd's Wake, An Ugly Ending For Oracle's Charles Phillips

Global CIO: Larry Ellison Looms Large Over Put-Down Of Oracle President

Global CIO: Resurrecting Mark Hurd: Larry Ellison's War With IBM

Global CIO: Larry Ellison And Mark Hurd: The Job Interview

Global CIO: Burying Mark Hurd: Hewlett-Packard And Its Future

Global CIO: Larry Ellison's Acquisition List: Who's #1?

Global CIO: Hewlett-Packard CEO Hurd's Strategy: The Infrastructure Company

Global CIO: Oracle Dumps HP After Co-Creating 'Most Successful Introduction Ever'

Global CIO: Larry Ellison's IBM-Slayer Is Oracle Exadata Machine

Global CIO: Oracle's Larry Ellison Declares War On IBM And SAP

Global CIO: IBM Claims Hardware Supremacy And Calls Out HP's Hurd

Global CIO: Larry Ellison's Hardware Boasts Are Nonsense, Says IBM

Global CIO: Oracle Needs More Than Talk To Beat IBM's Systems

Global CIO: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's Top 10 Reasons For Buying Sun

Global CIO: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison On The Future Of IT

IBM CEO Sam Palmisano Talks With Global CIO

Global CIO: An Open Letter To Oracle CEO Larry Ellison

Global CIO: Sam Palmisano's Grand Strategy For IBM

GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at bevans@techweb.com.

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