Oracle OpenWorld 2006: The Tech Conference that Ate San Francisco
- By John K. Waters
Oh, my aching feet! I've definitely got to get some better shoes... or lose
some weight. (Weight Watchers or the Ecco store? Do I spend 200 bucks on loafers
just so I can keep gobbling Chunky Monkey? Hmmm…)
No, I'm not sore from practicing for the next season of ''Dancing with the
Stars.'' My dogs are still barking after five days at Oracle OpenWorld 2006. The
Big O took up all three wings of San Francisco's Moscone Center last week for
this humungous event, filled every available downtown hotel conference room,
and blocked off Howard Street with tents and Vegas-sized
video displays. About 42,000 conference attendees swarmed over three square blocks
of the City by the Bay for keynotes, educational sessions, vendor exhibits,
and special events. On Tuesday night, about 20,000 attendees spilled into the Cow Palace for a conference-sponsored rock
concert. On the bill: Elton John, Joan Jett, Berlin, and Devo. A
football-field-length stage with seven (count 'em, seven) massive video displays
dominated the keynote auditorium. Conference organizers even put Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's racing yacht on
display at the foot of the escalators in the North Hall. It was easily the
biggest and flashiest local conference I've seen in 10 years of tech-trade-show
Still, size is a relative thing. As Gartner analyst Kim Collins pointed out to
me, if Oracle's boast that it now has 265,000 customers is accurate, the show
drew just over 15 percent of the company's client base. ''That's still very
good,'' Collins said, ''but it's really to be expected, given the company's
Good point: After three years of a different kind of gobbling, the Redwood
Shores, CA-based company has moved beyond its core database business into the
applications market, bringing with it a lot of customers with a lot of
questions. ''The size of the show is indicative of the sheer number of people
who have questions about what the company is going to be doing with their
applications,'' Collins said. ''I think a lot of these customers –PeopleSoft customers, Siebel customers—come to an
event like this to get answers to their questions on a broader level. And, of
course, for the opportunity to network with their peers. There's a lot of
sharing of information that goes on, not just between Oracle and its customers,
but from customer to customer.''
The Oracle announcements from this the sprawling conference and expo were,
let's say, to scale. Larry Ellison's revelation during his conference keynote
that his company would soon begin offering its own support for the Red Hat Linux distro (Oracle calls
it ''Unbreakable Linux'') grabbed big headlines; news that Oracle would be
competing with Red Hat on price probably contributed to the subsequent slide of
that company's shares.
Oracle is positioning itself as a better Red Hat service provider, Ellison
said, to speed adoption of Linux. He claimed that Oracle would maintain code
compatibility with patches and updates, and that the company would remove all
trademark references in the Red Hat source. Other tech industry heavyweights
endorsed the move, including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Intel,
EMC and BMC.
This is Big O's first step into the OS biz, and it's likely to leave heel marks
all over Red Hat.
Running a close second in terms of a conference wow
was news that Oracle
would be joining with HP and Intel in what amounts
to an assault on the mainframe market. HP chief Mark
Hurd announced the joint 'Application Modernization Initiative' during his conference keynote. The
effort is intended to provide the three companies' customers with a solution for
modernizing their legacy app portfolios now running on old mainframes.
''More than 65 percent of IT budgets are spent on keeping [mainframes]
running,'' Hurd observed. The initiative will rely on SOA principles and
enterprise grid computing platforms to provide increased reliability and
efficiency without the dependency on legacy mainframe skills, he added.
''This movement toward application
modernization has a lot of legs,'' says Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst and founder
of ZapThink. ''A lot of companies
are still using
client-server applications and mainframe applications that never made the transition to
the Web. Some of these applications command a high cost of ownership,
because they lack flexibility and they use proprietary technologies. Now is the
right time [to transition those apps], and SOA is the right
Oracle also announced its next-gen ''user interaction environment,'' the
Oracle WebCenter Suite. WebCenter is a new component of Oracle Fusion Middleware
designed for info workers. It's meant to provide a unified environment that
gives users access to biz applications, structured and un-structured content,
biz intelligence, enterprise search, biz processes, and communication and
collaboration services. The company expects this product to ''provide the first
user interaction environment that breaks down the boundaries between Web-based
portals, enterprise applications, and Web 2.0 technologies to enable the rapid
creation of flexible, context-sensitive work processes.''
Thomas Kurian, Oracle's SVP of server technologies, told attendees about his
company's new Business Intelligence Suite, Enterprise Edition. This is a very
cool product designed to distill intelligence from existing applications and
data sources, and to distribute that intelligence pervasively across the
enterprise. Think of it as another bit of ordnance for companies waging war with
the piles of data they produce, but from which they can't extract value.
One of the high points of the show for me was John Chambers' keynote. It was
the Cisco Systems CEO's first time at an OOW
event, so attendees might have been surprised when he all but leapt into the
audience a few seconds into his presentation. But it was vintage Chambers; he
spoke for an hour and rarely stopped moving. (What does this guy eat?
I'm guessing it's not Chunky Monkey.)
''My role is to challenge your thought process,'' Chambers told his audience.
''Am I making you uncomfortable yet?''
Chambers covered a lot of ground (figuratively and literally), but I
especially liked his big-picture view of the emerging Web-centric world as it
pertains to developers. His twist on former Sun
Microsystems' CEO Scott McNealy's well-known catchphrase, ''the network is
the computer,'' was the best turn of phrase at the event. ''The network is the
platform,'' Chambers told a very uncomfortable guy in the sixth row. As
virtualization technologies evolve to encompass storage, processing, and
applications, it will enable a new wave of app development on a new generation
of intelligent networks, he said.
As we left the Chambers keynote, the sound system cranked up an old Elton John
song. Sir Elton's tunes were positively ubiquitous at this show, probably to
warm us up for the Cow Palace concert. But this particular song, ''Rocket
Man,'' stuck me personally. Back in 2001, I was hard at work on a
book about John Chambers when the tech downturn hit and Cisco announced the
first big layoffs of the post-bubble era. Until then, the title for my book was
Rocket Man: John Chambers and the Stratospheric Rise of Cisco Systems.
From its initial public offering in 1990 to the spring of 2000, Cisco's share
price had grown by more than 94,000 percent, and Chambers played a pivotal role
in that growth, so it fit. By April of 2001, Cisco's shares had fallen 80
percent, erasing more than $400 billion in market value. I was encouraged
by the publisher to change the title to John Chambers and the Cisco Way:
Managing through Volatility. I still wince at that title—and I still think
Chambers is one of the few CEOs in America who really gets IT.
BTW: Despite the many, many, many complaints I
heard from SF residents about the traffic snarls caused by the (let's face it)
over-the-top blocking off of Howard Street, San Francisco should be very
happy to have hosted the Oracle event: The San Francisco Chronicle
reports that the show was expected to generate $60 million in revenue for the
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached
at [email protected].