After two days OpenWorld could be called Oracle Hardware World since “engineered systems” is all that Oracle executives seem to want to talk about. The only other topic that has gotten any serious airtime so far is “big data”. A huge sign by the entrance to the main presentation hall declares: Oracle is big data. In addition, the theme of EMC’s keynote that opened Monday’s presentations was Big Data meets Cloud Computing (a topic Ellison will attack in his second keynote Wednesday). Michael Dell also climbed aboard the big data train on during his Tuesday morning keynote.

Big data is a cute name for a very real phenomenon, but one that is only of consequence at the moment to a handful of the largest enterprises in the world. These entities have a compelling need to analyze very large amounts of data – anywhere from hundreds of Terabytes to multiple Petabytes. They include on-line retailers trying to make sense out of millions of customer visits to web sites, huge government agencies, and giant financial institutions managing billions in assets.

It is nice to know that the largest IT vendors are capable of helping some of their biggest customers handle the unique needs of storing, processing and analyzing vast amounts of data. Hearing what the giants at the leading edge are doing can be informative. It is also of limited practical value to the vast majority of organizations still struggling to make sense out of small data.

The sad reality is that most people work in organizations where data analysis is mostly done with user-built Excell spreadsheets. The data loaded into these spreadsheets tends to be inconsistent, incomplete and too often inaccurate. Even the modest amount of data that passes through financial systems is hard to easily analyze. Before worrying about big data most of you need to get small but important amounts of data under control.

A growing body of solutions are available to address the more modest needs of those needing to get “small data” under control before worrying about big data. I have a natural bias towards our own RapidDecision solution, but it is just one example of many things of potential interest to those with more modest needs.

It is easy to come away from a conference like OpenWorld feeling that your organization is hopelessly behind as you listen to what is happening at the leading edge. If all the talk about big data is making you feel this way you don’t need to be concerned. Some day every organization will be happily crunching big data but long before that happens the more mundane need to get small data under control will need to be resolved.

It would be helpful if major conferences paid more attention to the real needs of typical attendees. Fortunately for our community, the conferences Quest puts on are far more focused on solutions for the masses rather than the special needs of the giants. Those of you that made the sensible decision to go to a Quest event rather than fight the crowds here at OpenWorld can take comfort in this specific case that you made a good choice.