Oracle's OpenWorld conference, which kicks off Sunday in San Francisco, could be the biggest one yet for the company, which entered the hardware game last year through the purchase of Sun Microsystems and is closing in on $40 billion in revenue.
But the bigger the company, the more questions it has to answer about its future directions and past promises. The tens of thousands expected at OpenWorld and its sister JavaOne conference will be in search of all the details.
An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment on the company's planned announcements for OpenWorld, but through interviews with industry experts, reasonable speculation and some digging, here's a look at some of the most important questions facing Oracle going into the show.
The final word on Fusion Applications?
It's no longer fair for anyone to say Oracle's long-awaited Fusion Applications aren't real, but they aren't yet generally available in the traditional sense. Oracle recently put the next-generation suite into "controlled availability," where customers must undergo a type of readiness assessment before Oracle lets them buy anything.
For the past couple of years, Oracle has pulled back dramatically on the Fusion Applications hype as development on the next-generation suite chugged to a conclusion. Fusion is supposed to combine the best attributes of Oracle's other ERP (enterprise resource planning) lines, such as E-Business Suite and PeopleSoft, along with pervasive BI (business intelligence) functionality.
"It's important for them to say 'we're open for business with Fusion' and show some customer adoption" at OpenWorld this year, said Forrester Research analyst Paul Hamerman.
Oracle Senior Vice President Steve Miranda is expected to do something along those lines during a keynote address and customer panel discussion on Wednesday.
There are other gaps for Oracle to fill in the Fusion Applications story, namely just how the reported SaaS (software-as-a-service) option will work and be priced. So far, pricing has only been released for the on-premises versions.
Oracle also could make clearer what current E-Business Suite, JD Edwards and PeopleSoft customers are entitled to under their maintenance payments in terms of an upgrade to similar Fusion modules.
Customers shouldn't expect too many scary surprises, according to Frank Scavo, managing partner of the IT consulting firm Strativa.
"Oracle's got to make this attractive from an economic perspective, otherwise there's going to be tremendous inertia," he said.
But Oracle should also give existing customers a sense of what's in store if they don't immediately upgrade to Fusion, Scavo added. "Clearly, Fusion is the future. What kind of investment can [the installed base] expect for their maintenance dollars going forward? Are they going to see the best features of cloud computing, mobile technology, and social [software]?"
All eyes on Exadata and Exalogic?
Observers expect Oracle to announce a number of new engineered systems that combine software and hardware, much like its initial forays in this area, the Exadata database machine and Exalogic application server.