Beyond Apple and Google: 2012's key enterprise shifts

Reinvention was the theme for leading vendors in 2012

Beyond Apple and Google: 2012's key enterprise shifts

It's that time of year, when everyone is recapping 2012's big stories -- successes and failures -- or prognosticating what 2013 will hold. But with so much attention paid to consumer-oriented heavyweights like Apple and Google, the parade of privacy violations from the likes of Facebook and Instagram, and the ups and mainly downs of Windows 8, it's easy to have missed the key developments from the industry heavyweights that power much of the technology that keeps businesses running.

Those companies -- Oracle, SAP, EMC VMware, and Hewlett-Packard (the part not selling PCs and printers) -- have undergone significant changes in 2012. But they've each done so through seemingly disconnected episodes that, when pulled together, show the real picture of what's going on, and why it matters to businesses and business users.

Oracle: That cloud thing suddenly matters, and the king of software keeps current

Although 2012 started badly for Oracle, with InfoWorld's reveal of a doomsday bug in the Oracle database, the company has been on a roll in software. In Q2 results released this week, Oracle reported that software licenses jumped 17 percent to roughly $2.4 billion in the quarter. Applications, middleware, and database all had double-digit growth in new software license and cloud subscriptions. And Oracle has seen similar results all year.

Oracle's growth comes even as it faces strong challenges from new technologies, such as NoSQL and big data. As InfoWorld's Andrew C. Oliver writes, although NoSQL and big data may slow Oracle RDBMS's long-term growth, they do not threaten Oracle or its RDBMS paradigm in the near term.

Nor the longer term, if Larry Ellison has his way. Oracle's CEO announced at OpenWorld that the next version of Oracle's database will feature "support for multitenancy as a critical feature, providing superior security, control, and efficiency for software services delivered from the cloud. ... It is the first multitenant database in the world." In other words, it is becoming a cloud-savvy database.

There's more cloud computing coming to Oracle than its database. Yes, you read that right: cloud computing. The company that for years pooh-poohed the idea finally unveiled a cloud strategy in 2012, announcing plans to broaden the footprint of its cloud software portfolio with seven new services covering developer team services, analytics, collaboration, and other areas. At its OpenWorld conference, the company boasted that, coupled with Oracle's PaaS and cloud-based applications, "it's the broadest suite of software products available from any vendor through a cloud." Ellison also announced plans to provide an IaaS offering that will compete with the likes of Amazon Web Services.

Oracle's late effort to rival Amazon is helped by its taking a stake last month in PaaS vendor Engine Yard and moving into more "modern" app dev platforms like Ruby. As InfoWorld's Paul Krill writes, "with its new investment in third-party cloud vendor Engine Yard, Oracle is proving it will do whatever it takes to fill gaps it might find in its own cloud strategy. [The move] reveals that the company will spend money and roll the dice on other vendors in the cloud space even as it builds its own capabilities."

Oracle has shown itself adept in adapting to modern technology. For example, despite early fears, Oracle has proved to be a good shepherd of Java. According to an IDC report, "Oracle has navigated most decisions with a deliberate and decisive approach that should inspire the community's confidence in Java's long-term prospects." Oracle can be congratulated for moving Java forward, with its ambitious plans for Java including modular capabilities and cloud computing.

SAP: Looking to get out of the data center ghetto

SAP is largely identified with complex back-end business software for ERP, BI, and CRM. But in a significant shift, its focus has expanded to mobile computing and developing client apps that let business users access data in those systems to unlock more value -- and sell more client licenses. According to Sanjay Poonen, president of technology solutions and head of the mobile division, SAP's goal in the mobile arena is to create a brand in enterprise mobility like Apple did in consumer mobility. That goal will require investments in mobile security, the platform for applications, and in the mobile applications themselves.

The company obtained some of the technologies for this strategy through its acquisition of Sybase, although as InfoWorld's Galen Gruman points out, Sybase's Afaria currently barely registers in the mobile management space, despite its long history and SAP's backing. Gruman warns of the dangers of throwing point products at problems such as mobile security and thereby creating a new problem: "a cacophony of tools that overlap and don't integrate, creating huge management costs and new risks due to the gaps." Having a rational portfolio, not a bunch of one-off client and management tools, will be critical if SAP's "beyond the data center" strategy is to work.

SAP's other big play in 2012 was around HANA, its new in-memory database technology meant to make big data analysis possible at transaction speeds. That speed has impressed early adopters, who say it allows them to explore data much more fluidly and iteratively. Like every new product, HANA has its growing pains, but SAP is investing big time in the technology. The company is working on a number of next-generation BI technologies to exploit HANA, including a new version of the popular Explorer visualization tool, according to an internal document (PDF) posted on the company's website. In addition, SAP is developing a new Visual Analytic Language that would serve as the visualization engine behind HANA Explorer, the document says.

SAP also announced last month during the Sapphire and Tech Ed conferences that it is tying HANA to its CRM software and other applications. That package, dubbed SAP 360 Customer, will deliver "transaction, text, and analytics processing on one platform," according to Vishal Sikka, SAP's technology chief. The longer-term goal is for SAP's core ERP modules to also run on HANA, which could potentially allow SAP to displace the rival databases from Oracle and others that its ERP customers are currently using

Like ERP, HANA is definitely a product for the data center. But a fundamental notion of big data is that it lets businesspeople do all sorts of exploratory analytics. That means HANA is about getting lots of users -- and client licenses -- not just selling to IT. That's part of the new SAP back-end/front-end approach.

Hewlett-Packard: Can it do more than just fix its self-inflicted wounds?

Things haven't gone nearly so well for HP, which in 2012 saw a cavalcade of mistakes and bad strategies come home to roost. Former Apple exec Jean Louis Gassée delivers an excellent analysis of HP's issues in the Guardian. It's a gory, gossipy tale of mismanaged acquisitions and benighted leadership in every major business unit. As Gassée sums up: "HP was once a pillar of Silicon Valley, a shining example of technical and managerial culture at their best. Today, insignificance and mediocrity loom."

Gassée's conclusion is devastating: Everything that CEO Meg Whitman is doing is aimed at stemming the bleeding and cutting the hopeless parts of HP. That might make HP appear healthy in a couple years, but it won't make HP relevant where the action is. That's the hidden story about HP this year.

Setting aside the sorry saga of Palm, EDS, and Autonomy, all HP currently has is a strategy to pare the losses, not a plan to move ahead once that's done. As InfoWorld's Bill Snyder recently and pointedly wrote, "HP's big problem isn't Autonomy: It's HP." He sums up a truly dismal catalog of woes facing the company: HP's cash cow, the market for printers and ink, is shrinking; the PC market is declining as the old desktop-centric computing model takes second place to mobile hardware and applications; HP's mobile strategy has been entirely unclear since it killed WebOS, with the company a virtual no-show in the emerging world of tablets and smartphones; and its services business, which is supposed to be the other main revenue driver, is in questionable shape.

We'll have to wait and see whether Whitman will be the CEO who can finally pull a winning strategy out of the Turnaround Artist Manual, and set HP back on a path to innovation -- assuming she can get HP out of intensive care first.

VMware: Getting back to its roots so it can grow into the next-gen data center

For VMware and parent company EMC, it's been a year of refining the mission. Under Paul Maritz's leadership, VMware went on a buying spree in recent years, snapping up SpringSource, Zimbra, Hyperic, Socialcast, SlideRocket, Shavlik, and Mozy, with technologies ranging from email/collaboration to social networking to online backup. Earlier this month, EMC and VMware announced they were spinning out a new company called Pivotal that combines many of these odd-duck acquisitions. All the app dev, app lifecycle management, big data, and PaaS assets will be collected in this new company, leaving VMware to focus on its core virtualization business.

Still, the company continued its acquisitive ways in 2012 -- Ceta for big data analytics, cloud automation vendor DynamicOp, desktop management company Wanova, and networking virtualization software startup Nicira -- but in areas that seemed to mesh more with that core virtualization business. In an exclusive interview with InfoWorld's Eric Knorr, Nicira's CTO attempted to explain why Niciara is worth $1.2 billion to VMware -- particularly when Nicira has been a key developer of the Quantum networking component of OpenStack, which in some ways competes with VMware's private cloud products.

Was there a grand plan behind all these purchases? It seems Maritz wanted VMware to be the post-PC Microsoft. But in a move that surprised many, EMC -- apparently while the Nicira buy was in the planning stages -- decided to bring in Pat Gelsinger to take over as CEO of VMware and moved Maritz to EMC as its chief strategy officer. EMC CEO Joe Tucci said at the time that while Maritz and team had done a "stellar" job in preparing VMware for next phase of cloud computing, EMC and VMware needed to make adjustments "to become the leaders in building out the complete, software-defined data center."

That won't be so easy. InfoWorld's Matt Prigge does an excellent job of laying out the challenges that face VMware as it leaps into software-defined networking: "The success or failure of VMware in the market -- and the success or failure of IT organizations that adopt the VMware infrastructure -- depends not only on the quality of its solutions, but also on how well it can unite them into a single, monolithically managed, extended, and automated set of tools." Tune in next year to see how the company does in integrating the products and technologies it acquired in 2012.

This story, "Beyond Apple and Google: 2012's key enterprise shifts," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

InfoWorld Technology of the Year Awards 2023. Now open for entries!