Oracle pushes appliance message to software crowd

Product chief Thomas Kurian described the benefits of integrated hardware-and-software systems as being similar to consumer hardware convergence

One thing became clear at Oracle's OpenWorld conference on Monday: The vendor is intent on drilling the benefits of its hardware-plus-software systems into a customer base that largely remains invested only in Oracle's applications, databases and middleware.

"Over a number of years in the personal computing space, hardware converged into a single device," such as tablets, that provided much more ease of use and efficiency, said Thomas Kurian, executive vice president of product development, during a keynote address.

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Oracle is building engineered systems like the Exadata database machine as well as the new Exalytics Business Intelligence Machine and Big Data Appliance in order "to do the same thing for business computing," he said.

"By definition, any application can run on these engineered systems. You do not have to modify your applications," he said as the large Moscone Center crowd silently took in the message. The software runs much faster on Oracle's systems, and compression provides major savings on storage, he added.

Kurian's talk followed a similar one given on Sunday by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who unveiled the Exalytics product after a nearly hour-long overview of the company's appliance strategy.

But Kurian took a broader tack overall, discussing new products such as Enterprise Manager 12c, the latest version of Oracle's system management toolset, which was announced Monday. "It's our biggest release in five years," he said. Kurian demonstrated how the system could be used to manage and monitor Exadata installations with the help of visual analytics.

Later he turned to the Exalogic application server appliance, describing its software-based "secret sauce," which includes the Exabus messaging system and Coherence in-memory data grid, a new version of which was announced Monday.

Oracle has also now optimized its various business applications, including E-Business Suite and PeopleSoft, for use with Exadata and Exalogic, the company announced Monday.

It wasn't clear how well Kurian's message was resonating with the crowd in general, as audience members began to leave in a steady stream midway through his talk.

But Kurian managed to hold the attention of Chad Jones, manager of outage support with FirstEnergy, a power company based in Ohio.

FirstEnergy uses the Primavera project management software Oracle acquired in 2008, Jones said. While the benefits of the appliance strategy and advanced analytics Kurian described are "pretty impressive," Jones said he wasn't sure how his company would take advantage of it.

For one, the migration path from FirstEnergy's current systems to the newer appliances wasn't clear to Jones, although he doesn't work in IT.

Oracle's strategy had more immediate relevance to Sheryl Reinhard, director of systems administration, network and operations at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. The school runs its ERP (enterprise resource planning) system on top of Oracle's database and had been a Sun Microsystems hardware customer prior to Oracle's purchase of the vendor last year, Reinhard said.

"A year ago, there was a lot of consternation at the school about Oracle wanting to own the whole stack," she said. The school's hardware-related costs went up after Oracle took over, but more recently Oracle "has come back with higher-ed pricing," she said.

Over time, Reinhard's concerns have eased.

""So far, I'm very encouraged by and interested in the integrated approach," she said. "We have to replace our architecture in the next couple of years, this is a radically different approach."

For one, it could alleviate the "finger-pointing" Duquesne's various database, networking, and storage staffers sometimes engage in when things go wrong, she said. Oracle has made much of the fact that customers will have a single vendor to hold accountable when they buy its integrated systems.

The prospect of advanced compression also interested Reinhard, as the school is having to invest substantially in storage. "It's just exponential data growth."

Oracle OpenWorld continues through Thursday in San Francisco.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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