Oracle OpenWorld  makes a splash

Block party filled with good food, live penguins, and glimpses into potential new rivalries

It was crazy in San Francisco last week as a rumored 40,000 people swamped Oracle’s OpenWorld conference — the first time I’d ever seen a tech conference have the clout to shut down a whole city block and set up tents in the street.

“Are you at that conference,” my nontech friends kept asking, when what they really meant was, “Who are these people, and why do they think they own the world?”

Although I probably talked to only 0.001 percent of the attendees, I had a few clear takeaways from this Oracapalooza:

1) Even the brainiest DBAs and applications architects love crass marketing giveaways. Some vendor gave away a motorcycle, and you had to wear a numbered badge and find the other person wearing your matching number for a chance to win. It seemed like people were standing in line for hours in hopes of meeting their match, rather than attending the conference sessions.

2) The conference food didn’t fit the usual tech pattern of great food on Day One, slowly decaying to the cheesiest box lunches on the final day. It was quality throughout. Maybe only Oracle can now afford this luxury — that’s the “synergy” and scale from all those years of acquisitions.

3) Oracle’s Red Hat support announcement — rather than being a frontal attack on Red Hat or Sun, as my colleague Neil McAllister recently asserted — was a thinly veiled strike on Microsoft, which has been making inroads on Oracle’s lower stack with the now-more-robust SQL Server 2005. Oracle — with RAC (Real Application Clusters) — and Microsoft, with their competing stacks, are the two main contenders to provide infrastructure software for the next wave of horizontally scaled and clustered datacenters. And Linux will be Oracle’s F-16 to Microsoft’s Windows MiG-29 (or vice versa).

Speaking of integrated stacks, Forrester came out with a report claiming that although Oracle now has the largest portfolio of packaged apps plus the market-leading database, it still has key weak spots that preclude it from single-vendor status in many areas. Forrester concludes that in its clash of the titans with IBM, Microsoft, and SAP, Oracle will have to beef up its offerings in the areas of security management, security, and business intelligence in order to truly be a one-stop shop.

Forrester also cited a recent survey that said that when IT decision makers were asked about their major initiatives for 2006, only 30 percent said reducing the number of software vendors was a top priority, compared with 74 percent who cited “reducing software costs” and 62 percent each for “upgrading the security environment” and “improving application integration.”

If Oracle can deliver its promised Fusion application suite on schedule, it will go far toward addressing this last point. But if the battle is truly to be fought on total cost, watch out for Microsoft.

Despite its paucity of apps for large enterprises, Redmond has made strides on the infrastructure side and is perceived as offering cost-efficient solutions on a TCO basis when it has meaningful competition.

Of course, to take on Oracle and win, Microsoft will need a better mascot. Oracle successfully co-opted the penguin last week — amazingly Ellison had live penguins strutting around onstage. What animal should Microsoft use? Send me your suggestions, and I’ll highlight the winners in a future column.

Sorry, no motorcycle.