Big data, cloud in the spotlight

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Around 45,000 tech geeks closing part of a major city's downtown area and bringing an estimated US$100mn to the local economy, a CEO with a rock star complex and a rock star who comes to pay tribute.

I've had just over a week to mull over what it all meant at the Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) OpenWorld event held in San Francisco, with off-the-wall comments by CEO Larry Ellison who came onto stage for his keynotes accompanied by pulsing loud music. And then there was also the Oracle-sponsored Sting concert. Okay, granted, Sting didn't necessarily come to pay tribute - I'm sure he was actually paid a hefty sum for performing - but the world-renowned singer did pay tribute to fallen Apple star Steve Jobs, who passed away as the Oracle event took place. Surreal.

Just as strange were Ellison's attacks of competition during his addresses - IBM, SAP and particularly all took hits. Badmouthing competition is not necessary a strange thing, but then again the targets of these attacks were also sponsors and/or exhibitors at the event. I guess it just goes to show that no one can ignore a venue of thousands of decision-making techies; some 475 exhibiting partners seemed to feel this way.

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But the real meat of the conference had to do with the sign of the IT times - big data and the cloud.

In his first address at the conference, Ellison made much ado over Exalytics, a BI solution for companies looking for analytics capabilities in their everyday business processes, and which he touted as the industry's first in-memory "speed of thought, instantaneous business intelligence" machine. The hardware can handle relational, multidimensional or unstructured (aka "big") data.

Market observers see the new product as competing with SAP's HANA (High-Performance Analytics Appliance).

In a separate address, the flamboyant CEO then went on to declare that all modules of Oracle's Fusion Applications are now generally available - either on premise for a company or in the cloud, as the software was designed to work in either environment. Ellison also announced the launch of the Oracle public cloud, with elastic capacity on demand for users to pay only for what they use.

The main idea he stressed here was flexibility and openness, with everything based on industry standards - non-proprietary language such as Java - to guarantee interoperability, no matter the IT provider. For example, any existing database can be moved to Oracle's public cloud, he said, or even between clouds and then back again.

The premise behind Oracle's R&D is that "when you engineer and design hardware and software in concert, then you can do a better job," Ellison said.

Along those lines, Ricardo Pedroza, Oracle's president of Colombia and Ecuador, made a comparison to the auto industry.

"If the automotive industry were at the same level of development as that of the IT sector, when you buy a car, you don't actually buy the car. You buy the motor, the chassis, a gearbox, different components - and you have to go to market to buy each one. Then you have to make sure that all the pieces go together and can be put in place, then you have to test them, optimize and, finally, you have your car," he said. "The problem is that if tomorrow your radiator gets broken, to get a new one you need to go back and optimize."

Oracle is looking to provide a one-stop solution as in the automotive sector, he noted.

The end-goal is to have the best technology at every single layer of the stack, through vertical integration, according to Oracle president Mark Hurd.

That's a tall order. Then again, the mere fact that the event attracted so many attendees, from 117 countries, is testament that Oracle is doing something right.