Oracle president avoids controversy

At OpenWorld show, Charles Philips sticks to company's IT vision

SAN FRANCISCO - Oracle President Charles Phillips opened Oracle's largest user show to date with a keynote address that avoided controversial topics like Oracle's hostile bid for PeopleSoft and focused instead on a high-level overview of Oracle's vision for flexible, integrated IT systems.

This year's Oracle OpenWorld, in San Francisco, marks the first time Oracle has hosted a combined show in the U.S. for its database and applications software, which were previously covered in two separate conferences. Oracle estimates this year's show attendance at 25,000.

Many of those attendees packed in Monday morning to hear Phillips and Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina discuss their companies' strategies for helping organizations manage their enterprise information and data centers.

Among the few new initiatives mentioned in the keynotes is a joint hardware-and-software bundle Oracle and HP will offer in North America through their channel partners. HP's ProLiant servers will be available with Oracle's small-business-aimed E-Business Suite Special Edition preinstalled. Oracle, which introduced the Special Edition applications bundle in the U.S. in September, said it will expand its training, sales and marketing support for Oracle and HP partners.

Phillips also discussed Oracle's plans for a traveling road show of half-day educational seminars to introduce IT managers to the basics of putting together a modern data center built around standard hardware and software components. Server maker Dell Inc., chip maker Intel Corp. and Linux developers Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc. will work with Oracle on the seminars, dubbed the "Architecture of the Future" program. Oracle plans to hold the seminars in 14 cities in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, beginning in January.

Phillips and HP's Fiorina, whose address immediately followed Phillips', devoted most of their remarks to emphasizing their companies' commitment to helping customers streamline their IT architectures and build flexible, more easily managed systems.

Several attendees said they were underwhelmed by the keynotes' lack of concrete details about product advances. "It was a big, empty marketing campaign," said one Oracle customer, who asked that his name not be used because his company discourages employees from speaking with reporters.

That sentiment was echoed by Gary Noble, an Oracle database administrator for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in Salt Lake City. "I thought it was very high level. It wasn't stuff that's really relevant to what I'm dong," Noble said.

However, he also said that he perked up when Phillips briefly mentioned the advantages of Oracle's 10g database release, since Noble's main interest at the show is learning more about 10g to see if his organization would benefit from upgrading off Oracle's 9i release.

In a press conference following his keynote, Phillips said Oracle is uncertain what percentage of its customer base has moved to its year-old 10g architecture. Half of its database shipments to customers now are 10g, he said.

Most of the press conference focused on questions about Oracle's $9.2 billion hostile takeover bid for PeopleSoft, which Phillips never discussed in his keynote.

Oracle is in a wait-and-see position at the moment, Phillips said, as Judge Leo Strine of Delaware's Chancery Court prepares his decision on Oracle's request that PeopleSoft's antitakeover protections be voided.

"This is a very unusual deal, it goes without saying. We're breaking new ground just by doing this," Phillips said. "We don’t want to presuppose the next 10 steps before we get the next piece of information."

Phillips reiterated Oracle's strategy for managing PeopleSoft's applications: If the deal goes through, Oracle will maintain two code bases, and support existing PeopleSoft customers while focusing on its own applications in new business bids.

"Customers can expect two separate (applications) tracks," Phillips said. "The Oracle track is going to be the faster track in terms of rate of improvement. It'll be around for a lot longer."

AMR Research Inc. found in a recent survey that 64 percent of the PeopleSoft customers it polled have low expectations for how well Oracle will support PeopleSoft products. More than 60 percent said they would immediately drop their maintenance contracts if Oracle stopped enhancing PeopleSoft's applications.

Phillips brushed aside such concerns, saying that when push comes to shove, few PeopleSoft customers will rip and replace their application infrastructures if Oracle buys PeopleSoft. Phillips went so far as to suggest that current PeopleSoft customers would be better off with Oracle owning the applications, because Oracle can take PeopleSoft developers that currently work on functionality for new markets and redeploy them.

"By our estimation half of PeopleSoft's developers are working on next generation (features) and new markets. We would take those resources and focus them on existing applications because we don't have to expand it into new markets," Phillip said.

However, he later avoided a direct response to a question about how much of PeopleSoft's staff Oracle would retain. He also suggested that the best of PeopleSoft's developers would probably prefer to work on Oracle's products.

Phillips is the most senior Oracle executive speaking to attendees on Monday. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison will give his keynote address at OpenWorld on Wednesday afternoon.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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