Oracle OpenWorld 2013 Sails On
Like any major trade show of long standing, OpenWorld has been in planning for a long time. But this OpenWorld might be the most planned show of its kind ever because in addition to the extravaganza taking place in the Moscone Center, many of the hotels in the area and even in closed-off streets, an important sideshow and object lesson — America’s Cup — is happening in San Francisco Bay.
You might wonder about the connection between the America’s Cup races and OpenWorld. Everyone knows that Oracle is a sponsor of the American Boat and that CEO Larry Ellison has poured significant personal wealth into the cup over many years. The reason the cup is being contested right now is due to the fact that Ellison’s boat won it last time and the defender has its choice of when and where for the defense. So what does this have to do with CRM? Keep reading.
The races, which have been going on all summer if you include all of the qualifying heats have not all gone Oracle’s way for the most part. If you’ve been following events, Oracle started the finals against the New Zealand entry, with a penalty of two races. As always, the Kiwis have a well sailed and skippered ship and it only needs one more win to take the cup home. Now comes CRM.
At OpenWorld many of the breakout sessions start with a short video of CEO Ellison looking right into the camera and intoning, “They don’t call this the PC Age,” along with several other tropes and then, “They call it the Information Age.”
Oracle is making the most of this conference to cement its place as a cloud computing leader, not only in applications but also in hardware and infrastructure software that makes the cloud run. So they’ve introduced some big and very powerful machines and software to run them, that put the whole database in memory and run it from there without the latency you get every time you run to a disk to get more data. Ellison’s keynote introduced the newest version of the database, 12c, which is the in-memory version, plus a new device prosaically called the M6-32 to run it even faster.
All the details will take some time to leach out of this meeting, but in-memory is supposed to improve database performance by a factor of 100 times for some operations and even greater performance has been achieved over the last few years as Oracle’s Sun Microsystems division has repeatedly introduced machines that follow the same script.
But now back to the races. We all know this is not simply the information age but the age of Big Data and that information is only acquired by crunching it. The Oracle boat is bristling with sensors, as have been most America’s Cup entries for decades. But no team has ever been able to crunch data and model boat performance quite the way this year’s contenders have. Team USA has been trailing the Kiwis for the whole series having started with that two race penalty, but then a funny thing happened. Over the weekend the American boat started winning consistently. Indeed they have to because another win ends the competition. It was almost as if the boat had a motor bolted to its stern.
A better explanation, though, is simply that after the first four races the team had enough data to model its boat’s performance and, through the power of analysis, they’ve been able to figure out how to sail the thing a bit better. As I write this, New Zealand has a two race lead and just needs to win one more. But the American boat is sailing different and better, and obviously faster thanks to whatever machinations they’ve been able to figure out, and it’s working.
If the Americans pull a rabbit out of their hat, it will be a stunning demonstration of good sailing but also of the power of analytics paired with Big Data. And even if they fall short, the impressive role reversal on display since late last week will still be enough to fuel endless discussions and possibly end the debate, once and for all, of the importance a disciplined approach to data and information — and modeling — will play henceforth in business and, yes, CRM.
As I wrote earlier, this show has been in the works for a long time, in some respects, you could say since the beginning of the information age. It is rare that you can put your finger on a moment in time when everything changed and the moments when the change is actually good are even more rare. Yet here one is apparently playing out in San Francisco on land and even on the sea.
Is Oracle Burying the Lead? Why?
If you are Oracle, one of the challenges of OpenWorld is trying to fit everything into just three days. The company has something like 3000 SKUs and it already splits the conference into multiple tracks and holds a conference within a conference for developers using Java. And of course, there are zillions of breakout sessions designed to drill down into the specifics. So it is making an attempt to do the right thing but I have doubts about whether or not it is providing an over-arching theme that might make it easier to communicate its message.
Hardware and software engineered to work together is the company’s tag line and while it’s pretty good, it is a vestige of an earlier era when companies sold gear and software and customers were worried. The vibe today, and the era that the company is rushing headlong into is the cloud and its children such as subscriptions. In a subscription world there’s zero discussion or how many licenses you want to buy and own in perpetuity. Rather, it’s all about subscribing and modifying the subscription as often as necessary to fit the customer’s need.
So the current tag line rings a bit false for all of that plus the sales 101 reason that it doesn’t end with a positive statement about what you can do with hardware and software engineered to work together. Providing the “so that you can” statement is becoming de rigueur for subscription companies and if Oracle is heading there it needs not only a more specific tag line but an approach to OOW that broadcasts that understanding.
I would like to suggest that Oracle begin by stating the obvious. The company has spent a boatload of cash (no pun, but hey) making the products that will make the subscription/cloud era hum and it’s time for it to take advantage with a so that you can statement. The database, Oracle 12c, is all in-memory and all about supporting many, many millions of simultaneous users and the new devices like M6-32 (no relation to C3PO) will form the cloud’s backbone. So why bury the lead?
Oracle OpenWorld 2013 Kicks Off
Larry Ellison’s keynote at Oracle OpenWorld on Sunday night had many flourishes as well as reminders of previous OpenWorlds. If this is your first experience with OpenWorld it is a TECHNOLOGY conference with, yes, a heavy emphasis on tech. That included a preliminary address by Fujitsu, one of the sponsors, that managed to make watching paint dry seem exciting.
No matter though, the show was about Oracle and its founder and guiding light, Larry Ellison who arrived from a day on San Francisco Bay watching his Team USA America’s Cup entry score a pair of wins on the previously dominating New Zealand hull. With the American boat still playing catch up at 8 wins to 5 (9 needed to win) there was no gloating but you could see a bit of self satisfaction on Ellison’s face both for the win and presumably because he didn’t have to deliver any bad news at the outset. New Zealand needs one more win to take the trophy home so it’s nail biting time for the American fans.
Nonetheless, Ellison was in a good mood as he unveiled some high capacity innovations in his company’s database (12c) and two new database appliances and other silicon based gadgetry that, if you are a gear-head or database maven, will thrill you.
First up, Oracle 12c, the fully in-memory version of the database that can run queries more than 100 times faster than the conventional model. That’s a huge performance improvement — like getting a Corvette for your sixteenth birthday when you were expecting a new bicycle. If you happen to be a Fortune 500 company with data, data everywhere, this advancement will bring a smile to your face. Never mind the row and column format innovations that make it possible, this is big picture, because, I am not a database guy any more. I can just appreciate it.
Then there is yet another device in the growing stable of Sun/Oracle devices that accelerate database activity. The new machine, M6-32, enables massive shared memory for in memory applications. It sports a silicon based interconnect running at 3 terabyte/sec (I was told to make sure it’s terabytes and not terabits). It translates into uber-fast data movement to help afford radically great database performance for databases that carry billions of rows.
Finally, there is a new backup and logging device for the database that also operates rather snappily, so well in fact that they saddled it with a ridiculous name which is something like Backup and Logging Device, which is sort of like the idea of naming a boy Sue as in a Johnny Cash song or naming your jelly Smuckers. Nobody is going to forget this machine once they see what it does and it does plenty.
What’s interesting to me about all this is that 1) it demonstrates some very good engineering aimed at confronting the biggest issues of database and hardware business today, Big Data; it also 2) positions Oracle even more directly as the plumber of the cloud as no other hardware maker has gone to the effort of thinking through what happens in 2020 when there are upwards of 50 billion devices hanging on the cloud. In memory is a big step in that direction.
This means that Oracle is the lead dog in the hunt to be the infrastructure maven of the cloud as it creeps toward reliability standards previously only seen in the phone system or possible some good electric utilities. That’s where we need to be for the cloud to become the indispensable business tool its supporters envisioned ten years ago.
Over the next few days, we’ll hear about the company’s applications and its business model and strategies for getting its customer base to dip a toe into the cloud, to bruise a metaphor. That will be the trick but fortunately for all, Oracle has found a way to engineer a win-win situation for all customers to take their time making the transition. All Ellison needs now is a little wind for his boat to do the same.
Oracle OpenWorld Preview
They closed down Howard Street near the Moscone Center in San Francisco last night and it will remain closed for most of the week as Oracle brings its annual OpenWorld conference to the city. On the street the company is erecting a small village complete with some towering signs announcing all things Oracle.
It might look like vanity but as a practical matter Howard St. runs through the middle of the Moscone Center dividing it into two buildings connected by a tunnel. Under normal operating conditions the tunnel is adequate but with Oracle bringing 60,000 of its BFFs to the conference, the Moscone’s owners discovered long ago that they needed more bandwidth between their buildings, hence the village.
This does not come cheap, shutting down part of a major street in the city costs upwards of $250,000 I have heard but that’s a small price for Oracle and the restaurants and hotels pick up significant trade so it’s all good. Howard is not even the only street getting a temporary makeover. Near the Hilton on O’Farrell they’ve covered over part of one side street for a Java sub-conference too.
All of these preparations are standard fare for Oracle as well as for Salesforce which will re-do some of this in November when the Benioff company brings its annual camp meeting to town. All in all, I am wondering why Moscone and Howard St. and environs has never been awarded the moniker of the “burned over district” to borrow from the region in upstate New York that saw the rise of repeated religious revivals in the early 19th century.
Revival might be a good theme to meditate on as OpenWorld gets going. According to an article in today’s New York Times, Oracle will use the conference to go “all in” (Who edited that story?) on cloud computing. The poor Times didn’t even catch its own irony in using the famous phrase that Steve Ballmer, soon to be CEO emeritus of Microsoft, used to launch his company toward the computing heavens a good decade after Salesforce.com had already established its permanent space station way up there.
Over the last several years Oracle has used this event to position itself versus all things cloud at first denying its importance and gradually, as it developed products for the brave new world, to embrace it. Look this year for Oracle to try to own it in its own way.
That way will mean encouraging a gradual shift from on-premise computing to the cloud which will provide customers with a logical transition which any enterprise will need what with building and buying new systems and writing down the older stuff. It will also give the Ellison company a similar opportunity to transition its revenues from one and done deals to subscriptions that provide a steady trickle of revenue over time. For both it will provide the runway they need to begin to interact as vendor and subscriber rather than pusher and consumer. That’s not a criticism, it’s just a good metaphor.
I have not been briefed on any specifics of front office announcements, in part because I have been traveling a lot, so I don’t have insight into specifics that might be announced. A wild guess is that analytics and mobile solutions will be top of mind. Oracle’s in-memory database and humongous hardware for the purpose, Exadata, make this a sure bet. Social was last year so I think it will be secondary, though still very important in the scheme of things.
No matter what, I am already in San Francisco having attended a very well received Zuora user meeting, Subscribed, this week. I think there are things Oracle could learn from Zuora though it is hard to see how they could ever buy the company given its strong roots in the Salesforce platform and ecosystem. Still some big announcements are expected from the event.
Conspicuously missing is any reference to Marc Benioff and Salesforce.com. Having made news earlier in the summer that the two companies would be more cooperative in the future, and with Benioff having invited Ellison to Dreamforce, it is odd that Ellison has not reciprocated. Odder still is that Benioff had historically filled a speaking slot at OpenWorld until last year.
Ellison’s keynote kicks things off for the Oracle faithful on Sunday night opposite a football game. I will be reporting from the scene this week.
Salesforce and Workday Get Closer
I started getting rumors last week when a reporter called me to ask about Oracle buying Salesforce. She was riffing on the announcement over the summer by Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, and Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, that the two companies would use some of each other’s technologies and make it easier for customers to use heterogeneous combinations of their products.
I said, and still believe, that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the U.S. or an equivalent body in the Euro-zone would not bless the marriage for the simple reason that Salesforce is both the market leader in CRM and the most significant independent vendor. Buying Salesforce would leave Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft as the dominant players and because each is more of an ERP vendor than a CRM vendor, I fear — and I think the regulators would too — a slowdown in CRM innovation right when we need it the most. So I don’t give that rumor much credence.
Instead, what we got was an announcement today that Workday and Salesforce will develop closer ties to enable their joint customers to more easily use their integrated products. This will be accomplished by the two companies making their platforms work better together.
This makes a great deal of sense to me for many reasons.
Enterprise business software today is less about individual applications than it is about processes and where application boundaries meet, a business process sometimes has to get off the highway and take a dirt road. It can’t remain like this. Dirt roads happen when there’s an inelegant handoff of both data and process metadata and too often, the solution of integrating the applications doesn’t do enough to pave the process path.
At the same time though, vendors routinely put up roadblocks to their systems to preserve their differentiation and to a degree hold customers captive. The term walled garden has its origins here, I think. So in agreeing to merge platforms to a greater or lesser degree, these two vendors have, or will, greatly reduce those barriers and effectively provide a kind or pre-integration for their wares. And since one is all about the front office and the other is back office oriented it looks like an ideal marriage.
This has been a grail quest for decades going back to COBOL compilers. COBOL may have been one of only four ANSI certified standard programming languages but that never stopped vendors from offering extensions that locked in customers and more to the point, each vendor had its own proprietary compiler that enforced the differences in the standards. Get it?
So making platforms semi-permeable, to borrow a phrase from biology, makes things better for the customer but it also does an interesting thing for the vendors. In a way it greatly reduces the need to buy companies in an effort to merge software and extend the reach of the underlying merged business processes. You don’t buy the dirt road, you just pave it.
Salesforce seems to be taking the lead in using this tactic, which you’d expect from a company in their position — wanting to remain independent while offering the most flexibility to customers living with the reality of heterogeneous systems. It is another example of the Blue Ocean strategy I keep hammering on because it elevates the discussion to process from application.
At some point most vendors will need a similar approach, just as most now pay homage to cloud computing after bad mouthing it for years. But I wonder what will happen in a few years when the software industry comes to resemble the European Union with no tariffs or boarder crossings. Enterprise software could become one massive plasma of process and data. What will the differentiators be? Ideally it will be a further evolution of business services and probably information gleaned from analyzing a very large Big Data pool. Or not. I am not the best prognosticator, that’s why I keep watching and writing.