Oracle CEO Larry Ellison didn't display much of his traditional flamboyance Wednesday at Oracle's OpenWorld conference, but he did preview the company's next-generation Fusion Applications and said its Unbreakable Linux offering has met with initial success.
The first Fusion Applications are aimed at sales-force automation and will arrive in early 2008, he said during a keynote address. The company will also release prebuilt integration packs for connecting the applications to existing Oracle systems, according to Ellison.
Ellison termed them "second-generation" sales-force applications. They're different from other existing sales -orce applications that are designed primarily to offer forecasts to management, he said.
Fusion's goal is instead to help sales employees sell more, according to Ellison. "They're really designed not to take the place of Salesforce.com," he said. "They coexist with those products."
One of the new programs, Sales Prospector, is a data-mining application that looks at a company's customer database and tells a salesperson which types of customers are buying what products. "It's very much like Amazon.com. 'Customers who bought this DVD, also bought this DVD,'" Ellison said.
A company's sales force can then determine good targets for additional pitches as well as easily find customer references to help close new deals, Ellison asserted. "That's designed not to help you forecast better, but sell more," he said. "That's business intelligence for the sales force."
Ellison repeatedly stressed that users of Oracle's existing product lines will not be forced to migrate to Fusion because the company plans to make it easy to integrate the new applications. "If you continue with Oracle E-Business Suite for five years, it doesn't mean you can't use Fusion Applications," he said.
Ellison said Oracle intends to support its own database and IBM's DB2 for Fusion financial applications, but no decisions have been made regarding database support for other program types, such as human resources.
The CEO also touched on Unbreakable Linux. He said Oracle now has 1,500 Unbreakable Linux customers, including large companies like International House of Pancakes and Abercrombie & Fitch. "We've made great progress in our first year, and we're now building on this," he said. "We're literally building up our sales team just now. We wanted to focus on getting service and engineering right before we pushed this aggressively through sales."
In addition, Ellison trumpeted Oracle's entry into the crowded virtualization market, Oracle VM, which the company announced this week.
Oracle VM is not only cheaper than competing offerings, it is "dramatically faster," Ellison asserted. "This is a very, very high quality, optimized VM," he said. He said the company will provide benchmarking numbers to prove its speed claims.
At one point, though, Ellison showed a touch of modesty, acknowledging that no one company, not even Oracle, will ever fully dominate the applications market. "Even if we buy aggressively for the next 20 years, I think there's still going to be more competition than we can deal with effectively," he said, referring to well-established vertical offerings, such as the Hogan Systems banking software made by Computer Sciences.
Oracle spent billions on a string of acquisitions in 2007, ranging from business-intelligence vendor Hyperion Solutions to Tangosol, which makes an application grid. Most recently, it extended a $6.7 billion offer to its rival in the middleware space, BEA Systems. The BEA board rejected the bid.
Ellison did not touch on BEA in his speech, which served as a crescendo for this year's OpenWorld conference. The show at San Francisco's Moscone Center drew more than 40,000 attendees, according to Oracle.
Pop singer Billy Joel introduced Ellison. Joel was brief but playful in his remarks. "I'm excited to be here," he said. "Considering how many car accidents I've had recently, I'm excited to be anywhere."