Did you detect the change in tone at last week's Oracle OpenWorld 2013? There was little to no slamming of competitors. Company keynotes stuck to Oracle strategy, Oracle products and features and benefits for Oracle customers. Even CEO Larry Ellison stayed on message, with no poison darts thrown at big rivals. It was an uncharacteristically mellow performance.
That was the style, but what about the substance of Oracle OpenWorld 2013 (OOW'13)? On that front it was a mixed bag of highs and lows, with significant announcements and good packaging moves undermined by purposely muddled release dates and a bit of Hadoop bashing. The lowest low was a sin of omission, with licensing complexity and cost getting little, if any, attention during the event. Here, then, are five raves and rants from OOW'13).
Rave: Clear And Consistent Messaging
Oracle's top lieutenants, including executive VP Thomas Kurian, senior VP Andy Mendelsohn, executive VP Steve Miranda and others, were on-message, articulate and well informed, and they nicely balanced announcements with live demos that brought the technology to life.
Kurian detailed Oracle Cloud strategy and services, Mendelsohn detailed all things database and Miranda explained the on-premises-meets-cloud hybrid application deployment strategy.
Shortly after his hour-long keynote tour of Oracle's cloud-based (database and Java) infrastructure services and its HCM, marketing and ERP clouds, Kurian went toe-to-toe with the press for another half hour, impressively rattling off clear, concise and mostly comprehensive answers to scores of questions. He knew that facts on Oracle's customer counts by application as well as the locations of 13 global data centers backing that cloud.
[ Want more insight on Oracle OpenWorld fact vs. fiction? Read Oracle's Cloud: What's Really New? ]
Post-keynote press conferences seem to be getting rarer at OOW, which makes it harder to get all the facts behind the headlines (see pre-announce/re-announce below). But when they are available, Oracle's top-level VPs are generally reliable straight shooters.
Rant: Pre-announce/Re-announce Syndrome
Oracle has made a habit of obscuring important release milestones. The Oracle Cloud and its database and Java services were announced at OOW '12, but this year their availability was treated like new news. Oracle 12c was announced at OOW'12, but it wasn't GA until eight months later, in June.
Ellison obfuscated the release and availability of the In-Memory Option for Oracle Database he introduced in his Sunday keynote by noting the immediate availability of a new M6 SuperCluster Server designed to support that option. It wasn't until the next day (after all the stories ran) that we learned that the In-Memory Option wouldn't be available until "some time in calendar 2014." Will that be January or June? Or will we have to pretend amnesia when In-Memory is presented as entirely new news at OOW'14? We don't know, but it's apparent that the company is trying to get joint SAP customers to wait and see before committing to SAP's Hana in-memory platform.
"I always get a little suspicious of companies that have a track record of telling stories when they don't even have the product launched," SAP CEO Bill McDermott told InformationWeek after last week's Oracle In-Memory Database option. "It's another future story."
Rave: Unified Data Management Vision
Oracle, like IBM and Microsoft, has been investing in data management for decades. In fact, it has such an extensive collection of databases (Berkeley, Essbase, MySQL, NoSQL, Oracle, TimesTen) and engineered systems (Exadata, Exalytics, Exalogic, Big Data Appliance) that you could accuse it of having a jumbled portfolio.
OOW'13 saw an attempt to move toward a cleaner, more comprehensive collection of technologies managed under a single pane of glass, meaning Oracle Enterprise Manager. The new news at OOW'13 was the rationalization of multiple low-latency technologies as Oracle Fast Data. The components include Oracle Event Processing, Oracle Coherence, Oracle NoSQL, GoldenGate and Data Integrator, Oracle Business Analytics and Oracle Real-Time Decisions.
This collection spans low-latency demands from filtering and correlation to data movement and transformation to analysis and on to real-time action. It's not clear yet to what degree Oracle has unified or intends to unify the look, feel and connectivity among these products, but the idea is clearly to cover the spectrum of needs and help customers go from batch to ultra-low-latency within a single, cohesive portfolio.
Rant: Big Data Window Dressing
Oracle was talking big data at every turn at OOW'13, but it just couldn't resist falling back on its old relational ways. During his Monday keynote general session, "Oracle Database 12c -- Engineered for Clouds and Big Data," Andy Mendelsohn certainly mentioned the Oracle Big Data Appliance, which runs Cloudera's Hadoop distribution as well as the Oracle NoSQL Database, but he didn't have many nice things to say about Hadoop.
Hadoop is "good at ingesting large amounts of information," Mendelsohn granted, but "the tools are all primitive and batch oriented," he added. What's more, "data scientists really want interactive responses," he said, and "you need a relational database for that."
This led into a highly unfavorable demo comparison of a risk analysis handled on Hadoop versus Oracle Database 12c. Mendelsohn wanted to make the point that a new SQL extension added by Oracle can look for patterns in stock trade data, clickstreams or sensor data, and a demo shows such an analysis requiring 600 lines of MapReduce code and hours to run on Hadoop versus seconds to run on Oracle Database.
[ Want more on an important Oracle partnership? Read Microsoft And Oracle Say: Come To Azure Cloud. ]
Mendelsohn was confirming the worst stereotypes about Hadoop 1.0 performance, but he made no mention of Hadoop 2.0 and the promise of its YARN component to help move beyond batch limitations. Nor did he mention improvements to Hive, the SQL interface for Hadoop, or the battery of SQL-on-Hadoop tools emerging this year. These options include Cloudera Impala, which is presumably compatible with the Oracle Big Data Appliance.
Oracle has checked the big data box, but it's performances like these that leave the impression that it doesn't really have its heart (and R&D work) in it.
Rant: Avoiding The Real Issues
License cost and complexity isn't a topic that many conventional software vendors bring up at conferences, but times are changing and cloud competition is resetting customer expectations. Amazon is regularly announcing price cuts, and Salesforce.com has been touting its all-you-can-eat enterprise license deals.
Oracle customers, meanwhile, are frustrated with the licensing status quo, according to John Matelski, CIO of DeKalb County, Ga., and treasurer of the Independent Oracle User Group (IOUG).
"Our first priority is to make Oracle contracts simpler and more customer friendly," Matelski told InformationWeek in a pre-OOW'13 interview. "I'm not so much concerned about price -- although that's a big issue -- but it's just so complex. Right now I have eight different contracts with Oracle that I would love to get consolidated, but that has really been a challenge."
Matelski has been told he can get "like for like" licensing when consolidating applications, for example, but he says he's unclear on what that means in terms of true cost, what carries over from old licenses and what his upgrade costs will be down the road. Compounding that complexity, Matelski says he gets different answers depending on who he talks to.
"I understand that Oracle is a global-scale vendor that has had acquisitions left and right, but at some point after the acquisitions, there needs to be some kind of knowledge transfer to the customers so they can understand the process and what it takes to move from one product to another," Matelski said.
Big vendor events are always showcases for products and services, but some vendors (like Amazon and Salesforce, to name just two) do bring up customer terms and policies from time to time. Given Oracle's acquisitive history, it would seem to be a good idea for high-level executives to at least acknowledge the concern, if not mention concrete steps being taken to make it easier to do business with Oracle.