OpenWorld buzz despite missing Ellison keynote

Oracle chief opts to watch crunch America’s Cup yacht race instead of attending company event

Mark Hurd, co-president of Oracle Corp, speaks during the Oracle OpenWorld 2013 conference in San Francisco, California

Mark Hurd, co-president of Oracle Corp, speaks during the Oracle OpenWorld 2013 conference in San Francisco, California


Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison failed to show for his second Oracle OpenWorld keynote this week. Instead, he opted to remain on an observation boat watching his Oracle Team USA crew once again win two races against Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay.

But after initial disappointment – a good portion of the audience in the huge hall in the lower floor of the city’s Moscone Convention Centre stood and departed when they heard Ellison’s keynote would instead be given by executive vice president Thomas Kurian – the choice by the company chief executive hasn’t seemed to dampen the buzz around the technology giant’s annual user conference.

Attendees have taken in a bewildering number of announcements, many of a fairly technical nature.

Top announcements include significant improvements to Oracle’s 12C database that enable it to run much faster (at “ungodly speeds”, according to Ellison); new hardware for crunching large amounts of data; improved business analytics to extract valuable, usable information from large data streams; a new database-as-a-service offering, and a new cloud-based back-up service.

According to Oracle Ireland, the largest number of Irish customers ever are at this year’s event. Irish organisations are also among the session presenters, with Oracle customers AIB doing two presentations and the Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI) doing one.

The second full day of the event featured keynotes by EMC chief executive Joe Tucci, who, like other keynote speakers, reiterated the themes of big data, business analytics and cloud computing.

In an OpenWorld first, Microsoft – in the past, often the object of barbs in Ellison’s keynotes – also got a major keynote slot, in what should have been the talk before Ellison’s own abandoned keynote.

Over the past decade, Oracle has become a behemoth via dozens of acquisitions and now offers a sweeping array of products and services across numerous areas of technology – everything from hardware to enterprise, human resource, talent, and customer management, to cloud services, to social media analytics – and of course its original focus, database software. Despite this sprawl, Kurian said in a briefing that the company wasn’t actually trying to be a one stop shop. “Some people interpret it that way, but that’s not the intent,” he said. “We don’t necessarily think of our vision as, all things to all people.”

It was more that many of Oracle’s customers, especially its large enterprise clients, wanted to run big software packages all in one place “because they don’t want to fragment their data”. So, offering a suite of offerings across many areas made sense, he argued.

Analyst Charles Eschinger, research vice-president with Gartner, was upbeat about what he’d seen and heard at OpenWorld. “Everything so far is good for clients,” he said. “[Oracle is] going in the right direction. I don’t think anyone would argue that they are not.”

The last time many companies significantly overhauled their IT was in preparation for the year 2000 (Y2K) changeover, he said. Now, they need to modernise to take advantage of a range of new technological developments such as social media, the flood of devices connecting to the internet, and the flow of huge amounts of information.

Many companies are already dealing with data bottlenecks because devices, sensors and systems generate more information than they can analyse, understand and use.

Although Oracle and other companies have been hit by a flat hardware market in recent years – with some analysts warning that there’s little sign that hardware revenue will rebound – Eschinger is more positive about Oracle’s hardware business, acquired from Sun in 2010.

“I think they’re starting to turn the corner there,” he said, noting that while many customers have started with small investments, such as buying an eighth of a rack of servers, there are signs they are ready to start buying more.