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Oracle OpenWorld is still over 11 weeks away (September 30 – October 4) but those considering going need to decide soon whether to participate this year. Registration costs will increase $300 at the end of this week. More importantly, hotel and flight options become more scarce and expensive as each day passes. OpenWorld has become so large, with at least 45,000 people expected this year, that it stretches the limits of downtown San Francisco to accommodate everyone comfortably. Those that register fashionably late pay a heavy price for doing so.

For the JD Edwards community, OpenWorld is now one of three major annual events. Collaborate tends to be the most complete experience and the one that those who can only afford to go to one usually choose. Next years Collaborate will be held in Denver on April 7-11, 2013.  The next Quest JD Edwards conference called INFOCUS  will be held in Broomfield, Colorado on November 7-9 at the Omni Resort. It sounds very exciting, but as a new event it is hard to predict in advance what it will be like.

The unique appeal of OpenWorld is the breadth of its coverage of the entire and extensive Oracle product line. Those wanting a broader perspective of the company behind JD Edwards and all the other things it offers will find OpenWorld to be the best place to go to get it. The options are so extensive it takes some planning to take advantage of them because the event is spread across a wide area.

Those whose interests include database technology, hardware appliances, mobility, Business Intelligence and even Linux can benefit from going to OpenWorld. If your focus is just in the applications space there is more to see and learn about than just the JD Edwards content. Oracle’s “edge” applications cover functions as diverse as CRM, HCM, transportation management, advanced manufacturing scheduling and much more.

Perhaps the best reason for application-focused professionals to go to OpenWorld is to learn more about Fusion Applications. Oracle has been slow playing the introduction of its next generation ERP suite, but at some point it is bound to turn up the heat and try to get us all excited and buying.

It is too early to tell if this is the year of the big push for Fusion Applications, but no matter what this will be the best chance for a long time to learn about them in some depth. I remain convinced that over time these applications will mature into something that will impact every JD Edwards customer. Whether that time is now or still off in the future is one of the most important things we are likely to learn this year at OpenWorld.

So far many JD Edwards customers have tended to stay aloof and to not strongly identify themselves as part of the broader Oracle community. This attitude will continue to slowly change. As it does more of you will want to better understand the very unique company that is behind the product with which we identify. OpenWorld is the one place where each year Oracle gives us a few tantalizing peaks at what is going on behind the curtain. It is the only scheduled forum where CEO Larry Ellison appears (without a script) to tell his customers what is on his mind.

I hope to see many of you at OpenWorld and many of others at INFOCUS or the next Collaborate. For those that cannot come I hope to again provide you with some insight from a JD Edwards point of view via these postings.

Collaborate is always worthwhile but it forces you to work hard to catch back up after a week out of the office.  The time since Collaborate has given me a chance to reflect on all that I learned there.  This posting will net out my reactions to a great conference.

The JD Edwards community was out in force in Vegas with over 1100 individuals from customer organizations, 600+ vendor employees, and plenty of JDE focused people from Oracle.  Best of all, the people I talked to were energized, optimistic and pleased with what has been happening to the applications on which they depend.  The dark concerns of past years about the long-term viability of JD Edwards seem to now be completely gone.

My posting before the conference lamented the fact that Oracle was not sending President Mark Hurd or another of its top guns to our event.  After attending the presentation by Oracle CIO Mark Sunday I have to admit that I over-reacted.   The presentation Sunday gave (on a Tuesday) did an excellent job helping us understand how Oracle eats its own cooking.  It reinforced the impression I have that Oracle is very effective running the behind the scenes parts of its business.  Oracle’s approach to marketing is so secretive and low-key that we rarely get to see how the company we depend on really works.  This presentation did not offer any big insights into Oracle’s product strategy or future direction but it was a fascinating look into what goes on out of sight.

In the presentation we learned that Oracle plans to start making internal use the new Fusion Applications in stages beginning after its 2013 fiscal year kicks off in June.   The first application put to use internally will be CRM.  Other Fusion Applications will follow over time but there was no indication of when.  Oracle’s decision to slowly adopt Fusion Applications internally was another indication that the plan for this new product line continues to be to slow-play its introduction.

It remains impossible to determine if the leisurely rollout of Fusion Applications is part of a brilliant strategy or the result of problems getting it completed.  I suspect it is some of each.  I continue to believe that these applications will some day be a dramatic improvement over the ones we are using today.  It remains unclear when it will be realistic for most of us to start putting them to use.  The approximately 250 organizations making use of some of them have not yet come forward to declare them mature, wonderful and ready for everyone else to employ.  That may come over time, perhaps starting at the next OpenWorld in October.  One of the few mentioned by name was the Red Robin chain of restaurants.  It is apparently attempting to make broader use of the full suite of applications than most of the others.

The overview presentation I attended on Fusion Applications did provide some further insight.  Apparently the software is up to its fourth major release which implies that it is starting to achieve a level of stability and maturity.  Not surprisingly, quite powerful servers such Oracle’s Exadata series are needed to provide acceptable performance.  Many of the early users have been given deep discounts on Oracle appliances as part of the early adopter program.  There was also an indication that the ability to run these applications in a cloud environment has been the most popular option so far.

Oracle’s decision to downplay the importance of Fusion Applications has been fine so far within the community represented at Collaborate.  In general, users of JD Edwards, PeopleSoft and E-Business Suite are happy with what they own and have limited interest in making a wrenching change to something new, even if it sounds wonderful conceptually.  They remain curious about Fusion Applications but only vaguely interested in making use of them anytime soon.

The meeting of Quest members featured a presentation by Adam Lashinsky, author of the new book Inside Apple.  A key theme was how obsessive Apple is about secrecy.  The book documents the close personal relationship between Apple founder Steve Jobs and Oracle’s Larry Ellison – who served on the Apple Board of Directors for many years.  Obviously both share a philosophy that marketing should be about brand image and awareness and not involve sharing information about future plans.

The cult of secrecy that appears to have worked well for Apple seems to be a guiding principle of Ellison’s as well so I expect that Oracle will remain as secretive as ever.  I have come to accept that Oracle will remain inscrutable as part of an intentional strategy.  A likely consequence is that presentations made by Oracle employees will continue to generally be bland and lacking in any attempt to connect on an emotional level with the audience.  The only exception at the conference to this general rule was Lyle Ekdahl’s session.   It did not provide a great deal of dramatic news, but what he had to say was presented with energy, excitement and great graphics.

Far too many other presenters fell into the trap of trying to do product demos during presentations.  Am I the only one that can never follow on-stage software demonstrations?  The screens always seem cluttered and impossible to read.  By the time you begin to figure out one screen the presenter has thrown up two more.  I can never follow the presenter’s patter, visually see what was done, and make sense out of the user interface all at once.

A recent study discovered that most children dislike clowns.  Apparently people assume that while they don’t care for clowns themselves, others surely must like them.  I wonder if in a similar way everyone hates it when presenters attempt to demonstrate software but that no one is willing to admit that they personally can’t follow what is going on.  Sorry if this side note does not resonate with some of you.  It just feels good to rant a little about something that annoys me at all software conferences not just Collaborate.

Clown-like software demos aside, I came away from Collaborate 2012 feeling more informed, optimistic about the state of the evolution of the software that we all care about, and generally energized.  The great mystery that is Oracle Corporation did not solve itself, but I came away better understanding that it likes it that way.

Attendance at Collaborate this year was up roughly 50% from 2011 with over 1,100 people from JDE customer organizations and a total of over 6,000 attendees. The move back to Vegas certainly helped but the turnout is also a sign of an improving business atmosphere and a renewed interest in investing in IT. Monday at Collaborate always features roadmap sessions for each of the product lines and that is where I spend most of my first day. It was a great way to get an overview of what Oracle is up to in the applications space.

As usual, the best-attended session was Lyle Ekdahl’s overview of the JDE product line. At least 1,000 people came. He was the only presenter that avoided using PowerPoint slides in the usual over-used Oracle format. I didn’t ask what software he was using, but it resembled the user experience of an iPad. Instead of using a clicker to ask for a change he made a broad wave of his arms as if he was swiping across a giant iPad screen. It sounds odd but it was a cool effect.

The presentation format may have changed from past years, but the underlying messages have not. In overly simple terms they were:
• JDE is here to stay, so keep enjoying the ride with us.
• Lots of improvements are here and more are on the way.
• Keep upgrading to newer releases.

This year’s featured factoid was that JDE revenues have grown at double-digit rates in each of the past four quarters, surpassing growth rates of eBusiness Suite and PeopleSoft. The once prevalent paranoia that Oracle management does not care about JDE and wants to phase it out has now been almost completely stamped out.

Another heavily promoted fact was that the introduction of new releases of E1 and World at the same time represented the single biggest day for improvements in many years. To some extent the timing of the releases was just a coincidence but it did reinforce the point that major investment in improvements continues.

Exact details of the announcements are available on the Oracle website. Many were targeted at narrow requirements but the collective impact was very impressive. Perhaps the most interesting one was described with the new word “gameification” which was defined as injecting some of the elements of game-like competition into business practices through software. The idea is to use numerical results to encourage people to compete with each other to improve. I am not sure how radically new the idea is, but the name seems unique.

Ekdahl also provided his usual high-level look at the kinds of enhancements that are coming in future releases. Details were not provided but the areas of focus on enhancements will be:

• Further improving the user interface.
• Increased capability on mobile devices.
• Additional integration with other Oracle software products.
• A tool to help move custom enhancements into new releases

As always there was strong encouragement to upgrade. The innovative web site dedicated to this subject (www.upgradejde.com) was heavily promoted and we strongly encourage our readers to check it out.

Throughout the conference Oracle sent mixed messages about Fusion Applications. I will put together a future posting just on this subject. Oracle seemed to be trying to say that at some unknown point in the future Fusion Applications will be earth shaking but that for now they are in the early stages of rollout in a few hundred controlled customer settings. We are encouraged to both be excited about their potential while not being concerned about their emergence having any negative impact on current offerings.

Ekdahl walked across this tightrope nimbly by saying lots of nice things while not suggesting much beyond watching this space for future developments. Later in the day I went to the Fusion roadmap session and emerged with a similar impression – things are going well so far, great applications are on their way, and your turn to use them will come well before the Sun explodes and melts the earth.

There is so much to report from the best Collaborate conference in years – I will post further reactions soon.

At the first few Collaborate conferences after Oracle acquired PeopleSoft and JD Edwards then President Charles Phillips gave the opening keynote speech. A key message was that Oracle cared deeply about all of its application customers and especially those new to Oracle. I was fortunate enough to interview him on two of those occasions. His candid and articulate style added a great deal to those events and helped make our community feel welcome and wanted.

The final time Phillips appeared was via a taped message played as part of the opening keynote. It was not the kind of polished presentation that Phillips was known for and did not convey much information of value. Phillips left Oracle only a few months later so it was not surprising in hindsight that his heart did not seem to be in the presentation to Collaborate.

Last year when Collaborate was in Orlando many of us wondered if Mark Hurd, Phillips replacement and former H-P CEO, would deliver a keynote or at least appear via video. That did not happen. At that time Hurd had been at Oracle for a little over 6 months and it was not clear what his duties included. Oracle did not send anyone else to provide an overview of company direction.

Last September when Oracle Open World rolled around many of us wondered how big a role Hurd would take there. The answer was almost none. He just appeared briefly two times essentially as MC and traffic cop. As usual, CEO Larry Ellison limited his appearance to one major speech dedicated largely to talking about new hardware appliances. The net result was that OpenWorld passed without an attempt by Oracle to communicate much beyond plans for individual product lines.

At Collaborate next week the closest we will get to a member of Ellison’s inner circle is a keynote by Oracle’s CIO Mark Sunday about internal use of its own products. Obviously now that Phillips is gone Oracle is content to let its products speak for themselves and to not attempt to communicate a corporate strategy. This is certainly Oracle’s prerogative, but it does leave those of us whose working lives are impacted by what Oracle does in the difficult position of having to guess what might come next.

Without the benefit of a corporate overview we will be left to speculate about things such as the impact Fusion Applications will have on the application suites we depend on. There will be no way to judge whether Ellison’s recent obsession with hardware appliances will continue to be the center of Oracle’s world or if he has started to move on to something else. Recent media reports indicate that while some of the newer appliances are doing well, overall Oracle is rapidly losing market share to IBM and H-P. Apparently both Herd and Ellison are largely preoccupied manning the pumps in an attempt to keep the hardware business afloat.

So far there is no evidence that the attention diverting decision to focus on hardware in recent years has hurt the application products that we all care greatly about. What we will never know is what might have happened if that energy had been focused in our direction. Oracle remains great at producing technology products and relentlessly enhancing them so that buyers remain loyal. Hopefully, the hardware misadventure will not have a long-term negative impact on the applications that we care greatly about.

Fusion Applications are supposed to be the next big thing for us to look forward to. It remains hard to get an exact fix on how they are evolving and when they will be ready for ordinary organizations to adopt. Hopefully, Collaborate will provide some useful insights into this and other big picture issues that attendees will bring to the conference.

Without an attempt by Oracle to explain itself, we will likely be forced to try to make sense of how the pieces fit together on our own. During and after Collaborate I will offer the best view I can. Tea leaf reading by semi-informed people like me is a poor substitute for hearing directly from Oracle executives as to what direction the company is headed, but it may have to do.

OpenWorld is so big it is really many conferences all held together.  To cover as much as possible,I brought along three associates who spent all their time attending JDE specific sessions and talking to JDE customers and partners.  I focused on the keynotes and Oracle big picture sessions while fitting in as many JDE sessions as time permitted.  Collectively, we came away feeling very positive and optimistic about the state of the JDE product, its customers and
how the future will play out.

The most encouraging thing was the upbeat attitude of nearly everyone we talked to in our community including Oracle’s JDE management team, customers and partners.  It helped that the uncertainty over what Fusion will be and when it will arrive is now gone.  The nice set of incremental enhancements that was announced also contributed to the overall great mood.  The annual Quest networking event at the Thirsty Bear restaurant seemed more energetic and fun than ever before – perhaps because the Karaoke machine uncovered some amazing singing talent.

Lyle Ekdahl’s state of the JDE union was not as zany as some of the past versions, perhaps because the story was strong enough to carry itself without enhancement.  He put the new Fusion Applications in context with a mildly strained analogy of two trees in a forest – a large, mature one (JDE apps) versus a new sapling (Fusion) that will one faraway day tower over it.  The point was that Fusion will slowly become something to consider, but that it currently represents no reason for concern.

Not one person expressed any negative concerns to any of us during the conference about the impact of Fusion Applications on JDE.  No one seemed even to care that Larry Ellison mentioned all the other major application products during his overview of the Fusion introduction but not JDE.  The
once strong paranoia about the future of JDE seems to now be completely gone.

One of the JDE executives confided in me that the relative lack of attention from top management was a good thing since it provides great freedom to do what is right for our community. I was also told that during Oracle’s 2011 fiscal year JDE revenues actually grew at a higher percentage rate than eBusiness Suite or
PeopleSoft.  My personal guess is that all three were in the high single digits.

The JDE enhancement that got the most attention and positive feedback was support for iPad – something great for me personally as a devoted Apple user.  The most important news in my opinion was that the next tools release for EnterpriseOne will enable a major upgrade to the User Interface for applications.  I can’t wait to see exactly how that works.

One of the featured advantages that Fusion will bring is a new user experience.  The new UI coming via the tools release is intended to bring key elements of that experience to JDE applications without the need to replace them with the Fusion equivalent.  This reinforces the strategy of making the transition
to Fusion Applications as simple and painless as possible.

Another nice piece of news is the available of web-based tools to help justify and plan upgrades.

As reported in previous postings, the keynotes focused heavily on new hardware appliances raising the question of what impact faster and less expensive hardware will have over time on applications.  That impact will clearly be felt first in applications like Business Intelligence where questions that once took hours to answer may soon be answered in seconds.

I have intentionally held off attempting to analyze the introduction of Fusion Applications at OpenWorld.  The subject is large and important enough to
warrant a series of postings which will come out as we digest what was announced formally and take an appropriate amount of time to understand.  For now it is safe to say that the introduction of Fusion Applications was an important milestone in the evolution of ERP software that will have a large and positive impact over time.  JDE customers can also feel very comfortable taking time making sense of Fusion since it remains something new and still
largely unproven.  Stay tuned for lots more over time.

Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff has become the newest addition to the enemies of Ellison list. Benioff had paid a million dollars for the right to offer a speech at OpenWorld but was told late in the day before his presentation that it was being cancelled. Apparently, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was worried that Benioff’s message would contradict what he planned to say later in the day. If his goal was to silence Benioff, the cancellation had exactly the opposite effect. The incident has turned into an instant case history in how not to behave in the age of social media.

Benioff’s speech was going to focus on how good Salesforce.com had become at leveraging social media as an integral part of its cloud-based CRM service. It was scheduled for a theater that holds only a few hundred people and likely would not have been full.

Benioff simply rented a hotel room across the street and gave the presentation anyway – to a standing room only audience supplemented by over 7,000 people watching it live over the web. Over a hundred of his employees stood outside the hotel making a scene for the large number of media people covering the event and offering donuts to the 1,000 people standing in line to get in. His updated speech relentlessly made fun of Oracle (something he would not have done otherwise). He then made the compelling point that the social media his company was so good at made it possible to quickly organize this alternate event and make it far more impactful than it would otherwise have been.

Ellison made his scheduled speech in the afternoon. After a brief overview of the new Fusion Applications he announced the introduction of the Oracle Public Cloud. Ellison took every possible opportunity to contrast it with the approach to cloud computing that Salesforce.com, Amazon and others take. Ellison’s main point was that the Oracle approach to cloud computing used industry standard languages and interfaces, something that Salesforce.com and others do not do.

It is too early to know which approach to cloud computing will turn out to be the best one. I heard good points made by both Ellison and Benioff. Oracle’s decision to un-invite Benioff at the last minute only served to give Salesforce.com a far more effective platform on which to make its case. Ellison’s pit-bull approach to competition makes for good entertaining theater but actually reduces the effectiveness of the arguments he makes. He is rarely wrong on purely technical matters, but there is so much emotion tied up in decisions as to where to perform vital computing tasks that his selling style could undermine the strength of his arguments.

To me, the Oracle Public Cloud sounded like an updated form of application hosting – something that has been available from many vendors including IBM for quite some time. The degree to which Oracle has enhanced this model of computing was not obvious to me from the presentation. I am sure it will come out over time.

The decision to pick a fight over cloud computing overshadowed what I consider the big news that Fusion Applications are finally here – something I will cover in detail in future postings once I have a chance to digest all that I learned here and gather input from others.

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.

OpenWorld was kicked off Sunday with the customary CEO presentation. Larry Ellison, however, is not in the habit of doing anything in a customary way. For the fourth year in a row the CEO chose to focus on only one facet Oracle’s complex business –hardware/software appliances, now called “engineered systems”. Oracle’s software offerings were only mentioned in passing as examples of things that run well on Oracle hardware. Late in the presentation, an attendee behind me in the audience asked his associate if Oracle was still in the business of selling database software – something not apparent from anything the CEO said.

Database was not the only notable thing ignored. No reference was made to Fusion Applications at all. This could be an indication that progress continues to be slow on this front but it is dangerous to try to read too much into what Ellison chooses to talk about.

When Ellison first walked on stage, did a double take and commented “we have a lot of hardware up here!” He then spent an hour filling our heads with technical details, specs, and comparisons versus his hardware nemesis IBM. As usual, it was articulate, passionate and sounded very convincing. I am not enough of an expert on hardware to judge this facet of Oracle’s business, but Ellison sure can make it sound impressive. At the same time, IBM keeps sending me email messages bragging about how it is gaining market share in hardware from Oracle. Where the truth lies remains a mystery to me, but it is no mystery what Oracle management currently cares the most about. Winning the hardware battle and proving that acquiring Sun was a good idea is clearly the top priority.

As someone concerned about applications more than the hardware they run on, I found Ellison’s presentation very disappointing. A tiny bit of love sent in the direction of the application community would have been nice. I also find it strange that Ellison now pays so little attention to the parts of his business that make most of the revenue and profit.

With Ellison’s considerable help, computer hardware is moving faster toward becoming a low-cost, low-margin commodity. Competition from quality vendors has become increasingly fierce. Oracle, IBM, HP, Dell, EMC, Teradata and many others are racing to see how quickly hardware can be created that performs nearly perfectly and costs almost nothing. The movement toward cloud computing threatens to further speed up the pace of that race.

The hardware war is great for those worried about applications. Each year we can afford to be a little less concerned about hardware cost relative to creating the solutions that run on it. The arcane details of hardware design are generally only of concern to those job entails selecting and running it. I have to believe that 90% of the attendees at OpenWorld have little to do with hardware selection and that all the energy being spent here hyping Oracle appliances (sorry, engineered systems) is lost on the rest of us.

OpenWorld begins this coming Sunday and, as usual, I will be there from start to finish. Oracle never telegraphs what is coming, especially what CEO Larry Ellison plans to address in his annual presentation. Recent years have seen Ellison personally focus on database appliances, especially since the Sun acquisition and that will almost certainly continue to be the case. IBM has recently been bragging about its gains in market share versus Oracle in hardware so I expect a vigorous and entertaining counter-attack.

It is a relatively safe bet that Fusion Applications will be formally introduced in some way this week. If not, it will mean that something has gone terribly wrong. Every indication is that the opposite is true – pilot site testing seems to be proceeding well.

Principal Financial has already been named as the first large scale user of Fusion Applications so I expect that it will provide a compelling customer testimonial. Others that have tested portions of the application suite can also be expected to get lots of airtime. In the last few years, as the delivery date for Fusion Applications continued to slip, Oracle has taken a low key approach by refusing to make grand claims about the product line beyond assuring us that it is in the works, is going to some day be wonderful and that it will provide a smooth upgrade path for Oracle application customers.

A few weeks ago I talked to people from a company that is not yet using Fusion Applications but that has agreed to become an early adopter of the Payroll module later this year. They indicated that Oracle is making it incredibly attractive to become an early adopter for a group of carefully selected organizations. It will be interesting to see if the early adopters that are not yet using the software will be called out in any way in advance. I suspect not, but Oracle surprises me at every turn.

Not surprisingly, Oracle is trying to get early adaptors to run Fusion Applications on the Oracle Exadata and Exalogic appliances. Apparently the current list pricing is very attractive and obviously there will be lots of discounting. The servers being advocated for use with Fusion Applications offer a great deal of flash memory, often multiple terabytes. It will be interesting to see if Fusion Applications have been optimized to run on Exadata and if it will become normal for them to be sold together.

Fusion Applications will have to run on all the popular servers but the cost of running them elsewhere could turn out to be high. Complete adoption of Oracle’s “red stack” of hardware, database and middleware may be a de facto requirement for those that move to Fusion Applications. How Oracle attempts to both maintain its reputation for openness while also making the use of all of its products together compelling will be one of the more interesting aspects of the Fusion Application introduction.

With only a few days to go before the curtain is at long last lifted on Fusion Applications I can’t wait.

       

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is famously elusive.  It is harder to get a private meeting with him than the Pope.  Outsiders, especially reporters and analysts, have almost no chance of ever meeting him.  Only the inner circle within Oracle itself ever has a real two-way dialog with Ellison. 

There are, however, two proven ways to meet Larry Ellison in person: spend tens of millions on an Americas Cup racing yacht; or show serious interest in buying an Exadata or Exalogic server.  For most of you the latter represents your best shot. 

A database expert at one of the top-end consulting firms confirmed to me recently that Ellison and President Mark Hurd continue to make personal sales calls on important hardware prospects.  It appears as if Ellison’s highest priority as CEO continues to be to promote the hardware appliances that emerged out of the Sun acquisition.  If that means sending the boss out on the road, then so be it. 

Acquiring Sun was one of Ellison’s boldest and riskiest moves.  Even though the new Exadata/Exalogic servers that emerged from Sun’s wreckage have been a huge successes, Oracle’s share of the hardware market continues to decline.  Some of the loss has gone to one time ally HP, but the larger part of it has ended up with IBM. 

At OpenWorld 2010 Ellison relentlessly mocked IBM and quoted numerous benchmarks to support his assertion about the superior performance of his to-of-the-line appliances.  To the best of my knowledge his characterization of them was accurate.  Like almost everything Oracle does, these new products are technological wonders with very impressive specifications. 

Across the whole hardware product line IBM appears to still have an advantage.  In addition to its formidable reputation as a hardware vendor, IBM has historically built customer loyalty by providing great service and support.  In a recent letter to partners IBM bragged that it now has 37% of the total hardware market and that it is the leading source of hardware to run Oracle software with a 20% share. 

A large JDE customer I talked to recently is planning to be an early adopter of a few of the Fusion application modules.   IBM has been its preferred hardware vendor for decades but Oracle is making a full-court press to get a foot in the door with Exadata.  The customer is highly impressed with the specs for the Oracle hardware and is taking great delight in having two giant vendors fight for its business. 

The war over hardware raging between Oracle and IBM (with HP often in the mix as well) is great for our community.  Prices are dropping at a faster than usual rate and cool new capabilities such as huge flash memories at bargain prices are becoming available every few months. 

You may not get a personal visit from Larry Ellison out of it, but many of you will want to at least kick the tires on Exadata.  At the very least, you might get a better deal from IBM the next time you need more hardware capacity.

Quest’s annual Northeast conference, held last week at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, is always a great source of news, information and gossip.  This year was no exception.  There was no earth-shaking news about either JD Edwards or PeopleSoft, but the era when dramatic things happen to either of them is long past.  Instead, executives from each of these product lines came and made the usual passionate plea to keep upgrading to the newer releases.  In that sense, nothing has changed since Collaborate in April where Lyle Ekdahl offered the JDE faithful three messages – Upgrade, upgrade, and upgrade! 

The PeopleSoft keynote did provide some additional insight into why Oracle seems to care so deeply about which release of its products you are using.  The 5,000+ PeopleSoft customers contribute $1.3 billion per year to Oracle’s revenues (out of $34 billion).  Over a billion of that comes from maintenance.  The rest comes largely from sales of additional modules to existing customers and from sales to 200 – 300 new customers. 

Oracle does not divulge profit by product line, but it is obviously spending far less than $1.3 billion on PeopleSoft.  The difference falls straight to the bottom line.  The numbers for JDE are roughly in the same range.  The JDE customer base is over 6,000, revenues are under $1 billion (but not far), and a few hundred new accounts offset occasional losses.  Between them, JDE and PeopleSoft appear to be contributing close to a billion dollars per year to Oracle’s margins.  Any speculation that Oracle does not care about our community is thus highly uninformed – we are a gift that keeps on giving. 

The party will continue for Oracle as long as it can keep us paying maintenance.  The way to do that is to get us to care about the future improvements that we get for our maintenance money.  In the near term, we get most of that value through upgrades.  Oracle tries to balance the need to provide us with improved capability on a regular basis with the requirement to limit how often we have to go through the upgrade process. 

With all this in mind, Oracle has settled on a schedule of doing a major release for JDE and PeopleSoft approximately every three years with more modest “feature pack” releases every year.  Tools releases also come once per year.  Vital problem fixes and things like tax table updates are done as needed. 

As time passes, a much greater incentive for continuing to pay maintenance will be the ability to upgrade to the equivalent Fusion application module at no cost.  After a very long wait, Fusion Applications will finally be formally announced at OpenWorld in early October baring a disaster during pilot testing between now and then. 

I was able to pick up some additional intelligence about how things are going with Fusion Applications at the conference as well which I will share in my next posting.

Oracle proclaims itself to be the leader in the Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) market – an assertion that is hard to dispute given the imprecise way in which that acronym is used. Like all of its competitors, Oracle has its own unique vocabulary and associated definitions of the jargon and acronyms it uses. For those trying to keep score at home, we will take a stab at making sense of what Oracle is trying to tell us.

A brief history lesson is needed to understand how Oracle arrived at its current usage of the EPM term. The Oracle acquisition of Siebel brought along two important Business Intelligence products: a suite of data analysis tools that Oracle gave the tongue twisting name Oracle Business Intelligence Suite Enterprise Edition (OBIEE); and a collection of analytic applications now called Oracle Business Intelligence Applications or OBIA.

These offerings transformed Oracle from a fringe player in BI into a possible contender. The Siebel offerings helped fill out a limited lineup of BI related data management tools that were little more than add-ons to Oracle’s 11g DBMS.

The acquisition of Hyperion pushed Oracle into the upper tier of BI vendors. It also created the challenge of integrating three separately created product lines and explaining how they fit together. The most important contribution was a suite of financial applications now called Hyperion Performance Applications that includes Strategy Management, Financial Close and Reporting, Planning Budgeting and Forecasting, and Profitability and Cost Management.

Oracle started to use the term Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) as an umbrella name for a now fairly comprehensive BI product line that featured the Hyperion Performance Applications. Unfortunately, in practice, Oracle people have fallen into the habit of using EPM as shorthand when talking about the Hyperion applications.

When EPM is used to mean the Hyperion applications Oracle can correctly claim to be the market leader. On the other hand, when Oracle claims that market leadership in EPM means that it leads the entire BI market, then an element of exaggeration is present.

Gartner is the closest thing we have to a referee when vendors make conflicting claims or use different jargon to describe the same thing. It uses the term Corporate Performance Management (CPM) to categorize the type of applications Hyperion offers and does indeed certify that Oracle is the clear market leader. For example, Hyperion’s flagship offering Financial Close has firmly established itself as the worldwide gold standard for large enterprise consolidation.

To be fair, at the same time Gartner has decided that SAP, with its Business Objects subsidiary, is the overall BI market share leader. Just to make things more confusing, SAP uses the term Enterprise Information Management (EIM) as its umbrella term for BI and the things that surround it including SAP’s own financial performance applications. SAP has understandable decided to use a term that plays to its greatest strength – its suite of data management tools.

If all that was not confusing enough, IBM (the other major BI vendor) prefers to use the simpler term Performance Management. It uses this term in a more narrow way to discourage unfavorable comparisons with the other vendors.

It is thus no wonder that IT decision makers can feel confused when trying to understand and compare the options available to them. All of the vendors make creative use of language, freely invent esoteric new acronyms, and stretch and bend commonly used terms to mean new things.

As you try to decide if your organization needs EPM, CPM, EIM or PM it is useful to know that these terms are slight variations of the same idea. By whatever name you choose to use, you will eventually need a strategy for collecting, organizing, managing and analyzing the massive amounts of data that passes through your organization every day. A number of excellent tools are available to help you do so, but the major vendors that sell them are certain to make it hard to sort out which ones are best for you by each using different terms to describe essentially the same thing.

Some retailers always rush things a bit by starting to sell Christmas items in September. In a similar way, Oracle likes to jump the gun by starting its Fiscal Year 2012 on June 1. This unusual schedule impacts the way Oracle interacts with its customers in a number of important ways. First, all energy in May is focused on customers that appear ready to buy something. Others have to wait for a while to get any attention. The last minute shoppers expect and usually get the largest discounts offered all year.

In June, the Oracle sales teams are often exhausted from the year end push and are either celebrating success, making excuses for missing targets, or are sending out resumes. Those that survive start planning for the next year. They also wait to find out what their new territory will be, their personal sales plan and quotas, and what sales promotions are planned. While all this is going on, contact with customers tends to be limited until July or later.

Those of you in a product evaluation cycle not geared for a May decision need to accept the reality of Oracle’s schedule. You should not feel slighted if your Oracle sales team has not paid much attention to you recently. Be patient, they will be back soon.

The new Oracle year also represents a good time to speculate about what changes the new fiscal year might bring in terms of products, sales campaigns, and messaging. I see few major shifts in direction occurring but can imagine many ways in which FY 2012 will differ from the past. The important changes that I believe are on the way include:

• More appliance offerings. Exadata and Exalogic are sure to be refreshed and expanded, and additional hardware/software combinations have to be in the pipeline.
• Cloud clarification. Ellison’s ad hoc comments about cloud computing at the last Open World were largely an appeal to buy his new Exalogic servers. This year Oracle has to make it clear what it really thinks about the cloud.
• Fusion Applications will at long last become something real this year. What the customers testing it out say will matter far more than the way Oracle describes it.
• Mark Hurd will finally emerge from the shadows at Open World. He will definitely put his own stamp on the event and on Oracle but exactly how is not yet clear.
• Oracle is overdue to acquire something sizeable. The next big thing will almost certainly aim to shore up the Sun franchise.

At the same time, some things won’t change very much in FY 2012:

• Solid financial results. Ellison’s flamboyant style sometimes overshadows his exceptional skill at making whatever he does profitable.
• Public attacks on HP and IBM will continue as long as they keep eroding Oracle’s share of the Unix server market.
• Oracle’s application products will keep relentlessly grinding out routine releases. All the real innovation will come through Fusion.
• Oracle’s low key marketing philosophy will change very slowly, even as Mark Hurd begins to play a more visible role running the company.

Since your Oracle sales team is really busy right now, let me be the first to wish all of you a Happy New Fiscal Year!

One of the more intriguing aspects of the IT industry is that businesses are often both great friends and bitter enemies at the same time. Oracle and IBM provide a great example. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison could hardly have been more vitriolic in his attacks on IBM’s hardware business at OpenWorld last September. Ellison used the introduction of Oracle’s Exalogic Elastic Cloud line of servers to make any number of caustic remarks about the IBM hardware it was developed to go after.

At the same time, the decades old relationship between IBM and Oracle’s JDE business remains as strong and cordial as ever. The latest example is the IBM i Solution Edition for JD Edwards .  Its purpose is to reduce the cost, complexity and risk of installing JDE applications on Power i servers. With it the effort needed for initial installation (or upgrading to a new release) can be reduced dramatically. The need for experts with deep CNC skill has also been reduced for those taking advantage of this program.

Continued cooperation between IBM and JDE is very important to the many customers that continue to run JDE applications using IBM hardware and middleware. Some still worry that the long period of détente will end but I see no signs of that happening. IBM continues to take overall market share from Oracle in the server space in spite of the tremendous success of Exadata and Exalogic at the top end of the market. If that trend continues, expect more barbs from Ellison again next October. Don’t, however, assume that it will derail the still strong IBM/Oracle relationship elsewhere.

The same line of thinking may not apply to the once rock solid relationship between Oracle and HP. Those close to the situation all seem to believe that Oracle’s decision to withdraw support the Intel Itanium family of processors is a direct attack on HP. Most HP servers use Itanium processors and a major portion of sales of them involve running applications over the Oracle database. Oracle’s move could thus badly hurt HP server sales and its HPUX operating system along with it. Oracle’s own servers could then take over some of the market share that HP loses.

Ironically, IBM will almost certainly gain part of whatever share HP loses. IBM servers run mostly on IBM Power processors and not Itanium. An intriguing question thus arises: if Oracle’s Intanium strategy succeeds in taking down HP, can it get away trying the same thing in the future by refusing to support IBM’s Power processor family? Doing so would end Oracle’s ability to claim leadership in openness so I don’t see it happening.

Oracle VP Lyle Ekdahl can be counted on to be entertaining whenever he makes a public appearance as he did Tuesday at Collaborate 2011.  His annual state of the union address to over 500 of the faithful was energetic, articulate and informative as usual.  His declaration that we are entering a “new era for ERP” might be a bit of an overstatement but it did serve to make the case that ERP in general, and JDE specifically, remain vital components of every IT environment.  He cynically suggested that anyone not in agreement should try turning off their ERP applications for a day. 

Ekdahl offered the view that “big bang” ERP projects were a thing of the past.  From now on organizations that go to a new ERP will not tolerate the level of effort and cost needed in the past.  He also pointed out that ERP software now needs to be deployed three or more ways: on servers in customer data centers, in the cloud, or on mobile devices.  His final new era characteristic was that customers have come to expect engaging interfaces from any software put to use. 

The real purpose of the talk was to encourage every JDE customer to make plans to move up to one of the level 9 releases.  A show of hands demonstrated that most of the audience was already sold on this idea – the majority that raised hands were already on one of the 9 releases or had plans in place to get there.  The claim that the 9 releases represented a whole new strategy seemed to me to be a minor stretch but the point that they are a necessary building block for the future is definitely valid. 

Examples offered of recent enhancements were nice but fell short of spectacular.  It was pointed out that sales orders can now show tax on every line versus just at the bottom – something needed in China and a few other markets.  We were reminded that the new Apparel industry module is now out and were told that it could satisfy needs in some other industries as well.  The example provided involved a company that made heart valve replacements, hardly a traditional apparel company. 

Another major theme was that the newer releases can be upgraded to with much less effort than has traditionally been necessary as part of a campaign to lower upgrade costs. 

Ekdahl also made a commitment to keep providing major new releases for both E1 and World for a minimum of 6 years.  Given Oracle’s previously announced policy on ongoing support of releases, he calculated that support for both product lines could thus be counted on until 2026.  His excitement about this was contagious but I did not get a feel for whether very many of you care about dates that far in the future.  The point was clearly made by stating it this way that no one has to worry about either JDE product line going away any time soon. 

It would not have been a Lyle Ekdahl presentation without something zany going on.  This time he had someone in a clown outfit sitting on the stage the whole time reading the Wall Street Journal.  It made us all wonder when the clown would get into the act.  We found out at the end that the clown represented “irrational fear” – presumably the fear of upgrading.  He thus made a grand gesture of “ushering irrational fear out of the room” and implored the audience to do so as well.  It was cute and entertaining if a little esoteric. 

Hopefully none of you that missed Collaborate this year are afflicted with irrational fear.  Assuming that is the case, lots of you will be following Ekdahl’s advice and will be upgrading to a 9 release soon.

A JDE customer has told me that the local Oracle applications sales team is pushing his company hard to replace JDE with eBusiness Suite. In doing so the Oracle team has lost all credibility with this customer and has made serious enemies out of the many JDE advocates within his company.

I have heard a few similar stories in the past but never learned any of the details. The obvious question is whether this is an isolated incident or part of a broader trend. Most likely this is simply one local sales team going rogue in a desperate attempt to make year-end quota. I am curious, however, to find out if others out there have had a similar experience.

There are cases where eBusiness Suite might be better suited in the long run to meet the specific needs of a given organization. A situation could be imagined where a customer had an old JDE release with massive modifications and was ready to make a wholesale change. If the industry fit was much better eBusiness Suite might be a better fit. In the case brought to my attention these conditions were not present. A few very rare exceptions aside, I believe that replacement of JDE with eBS is a very bad idea.

With Fusion Applications now scheduled to finally arrive later this year, signing up for a switch to eBS now sounds like complete madness. If an organization is going to face the cost and effort of an ERP replacement, why put in something that is about to be replaced with a next generation product just before the new one comes out?

Much of my time next week at Collaborate will be spent at the Expo area Quest is calling the “Country Club”. My company is a co-sponsor. It is a large area that will be hard to miss and will feature various golf activities. Non-golfers will be quite welcome as well. If you have a story about a rogue Oracle rep or anything else you want to share with me please stop by.

Those of you that are not able to come to Orlando can email me in confidence if you have a story to share. If your company has any concerns about the long-term viability of JDE applications there are lots of good sources of soothing information that we can direct you toward. The JDE team in Denver is also always willing to talk to customers directly about the future of the product. They are a far more reliable source of useful information than field reps trying to make quota.

I am confident that there has not been a policy shift within Oracle to encourage moving off JDE. In the distant future those ready to consider a replacement will be steered toward Fusion Applications.

Every year I look forward to Collaborate, this year especially as I sit in Connecticut watching snow fall on April Fools Day. Orlando is certain to be nice this time of year, but my excitement about the event goes way beyond the prospect of finally feeling warm again. Every past trip to Collaborate has been informative and invigorating for me, even though I always get something out of it that is very different than what I went in expecting.

The real value of Collaborate lies in the great ideas picked up from others doing the same thing you are. There are always lots of customers sharing clever ideas about how to squeeze more value out of a limited technology budget. Running into people you know that are doing different and exciting things is also invaluable. For me seeing all the innovative things that the vendor community has come up with is the most valuable. I always come away with concrete ideas that can be applied to my own business.

In most years there is the hope that Oracle will send someone from the inner circle that will enlighten us as to what the next big thing might be. Last year we got then President Charles Phillips who made a disappointing and very bland presentation by video. Later in the year we found out that he had already decided by then to leave Oracle and was just waiting for the right timing. That moment came in September when HP fired CEO Mark Hurd and Larry Ellison immediately talked him into coming to Oracle to replace Phillips.

This year Oracle has a time slot for a keynote presentation, but I expect nothing newsworthy to come out of it. I cannot see Oracle sending Mark Hurd or any other top tier executive to deliver the non-news. There is no sinister reason for this – Quest just happens to schedule its big event during the last six weeks of Oracle’s fiscal year. The only thing that really matters to Oracle at this point on the calendar is closing as many big deals as possible before the end of May.

We should not feel badly if we don’t get to see Mark Hurd since no one else has seen him since he was hired. The most credible rumor speculates that all his time has been spent working on acquiring a major storage vendor that would help fill out the Oracle line of hardware/software appliances. I expect that he will make a visible splash at some time, but that our event is not the right time for him to come out of hiding.

If Hurd did come he would have to explain the further delay in bringing Fusion Applications to the market. The latest I have heard is that the formal announcement of availability of the initial release won’t come until at least August. If that is correct, Oracle will certainly hold off until OpenWorld in early October to finally show us what Fusion really is.

We can expect to get a preview-of-coming-attractions style look at bits and pieces of Fusion at Collaborate since a few of the building-block pieces are apparently ready to show off. For me, finally getting even a glimpse of what is coming could end up being one of the highlights of the show.

This year I will personally have less time to spend seeing presentations since my company has agreed to co-sponsor what Quest is calling the Country Club. It will be a large area in the Expo hall where those of us who love golf can putt, chip and even hit a few balls at a screen and pretend we are on the tour. Non-golfers who want to watch will have room to sit and socialize and critique our lame attempts to excel at a game that is much harder than it looks.

Much of my time will be spent at the Country Club area so those of you would like to share ideas and gossip about what is going on in the world of Oracle applications are strongly encouraged to look me up. Above all, the greatest value I get from Collaborate comes from meeting customers willing to share their experiences and ideas with me. Come and let me know what is on your mind. I look forward to meeting lots of you there.

Oracle Fusion Applications were announced with great fanfare at an event at San Francisco City Hall over five years ago.  The announcement created a high enough level of concern and confusion that a year later Oracle introduced the concept of “Applications Unlimited” – a promise to keep the traditional applications (including JDE and PeopleSoft) viable for as long as customers wanted to continue using them. 

Since then small amounts of news about Fusion Applications trickle out of Oracle periodically.  A presentation at the recent JDE Partner Summit in Denver by David Bowin from Oracle provided a little more information but still left most of the big questions hanging in the air.  The bottom line seems to be that the process of inventing Fusion Applications continues to grind along but at a slower than planned pace.  Whatever Fusion Applications turn out to be when they finally arrive, it remains clear that they will have a limited impact on our community for quite some time. 

Oracle is now hoping for general availability by the end of August.  We were told that a number of customers are actively trying out some of the modules – what is often referred to as beta testing in the software industry.  The formal announcement of availability won’t come until the software is proven to work effectively at those sites.  It is quite possible that only a subset of what is being tried will make it through this filter this year. 

My best guess is that whatever Fusion Application modules are ready will be officially announced at OpenWorld 2011 on October 2.  A delay beyond that would be very embarrassing.  At the same time, Oracle is clearly inclined to wait until everything is ready before letting its sales force loose on customers.  Oracle’s patience is commendable and almost certainly the right approach. 

There is still relatively little that we know about what will make Fusion Applications different and better than current generation ERP suites.  Some of the things we have been told about them sound intriguing:

  • This is the first real grand-scale test of the concept of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).  All existing popular ERP suites were designed before SOA concepts had fully evolved.
  • Fusion Applications will be organized into traditional modules but underneath they will be built out of over 11,000 re-usable SOA objects.  An example of just one of these building blocks is a voice recognition capability.  It can be incorporated into any other software that follows SOA standards.  This includes JDE EnterpriseOne, World and other Oracle legacy applications.
  • The user experience will be dramatically different (and presumably better) than current generation software.  It is not yet clear exactly what it will look like.
  • Countless configuration options will be available that will not impact the ability to upgrade to future releases.  This will be wonderful as long as it does not create the need for a army of experts to help set all the switches – one of the greatest weaknesses of some of SAP’s ERP offerings.
  • Elegant integration with popular applications such as Office and Outlook are promised as well as with the growing variety of remote devices such as iPhones, tablets, and all the other popular PDAs.
  • Fusion Applications will also be “cloud ready”.  Exactly what Oracle means by this will be fascinating to see given the way Larry Ellison tried to offer his own interpretation of cloud computing at OpenWorld last September. 

Fusion Applications is the first large-scale attempt by Oracle in some time to invent a major new software product line from the ground up.  Historically, mature giant software providers have often struggled when taking on grand-scale challenges.  Microsoft Vista and IBM OS/2 come to mind.  Having a huge R&D budget and lots of talented people does not automatically result in great products.  This sad reality is one of the main reasons why the giants often wait for smaller firms to create innovative new products and then acquire them. 

Oracle has proven that it is good at acquiring innovative software products invented elsewhere and integrating them with its other offerings.  Fusion Applications will demonstrate whether Oracle can also invent great software on its own. 

The limited information leaking out of Oracle about Fusion Applications leads me to believe that Oracle will likely beat the odds and eventually get this right.  It also looks like it will take time for that to happen, possibly even years more.  If all goes well, later this year we can stop guessing and begin to evaluate something real.

 Over 300 people attended the recent JD Edwards Partner Summit in Denver – a clear indication that the product line remains alive and well.  Most were from the US with a sprinkling of partners from each of the other regions around the world.  Everyone that I talked to echoed the same story – after a very slow 2009 and first half of 2011 JDE customers have returned to upgrading, enhancing and otherwise investing in improvements. 

There was little in the way of concrete news in terms of major new initiatives but I don’t think that anyone there really expected any.  The essential message coming out of the JDE management team was that the product line continues to be vibrant and successful.  In a nice touch, the hallways were lined with posters describing JDE success stories from the past year.  I didn’t count but there were nearly a hundred of them ranging from dramatic head-to-head wins against SAP to some nice stories about the value of upgrades. 

An update on Fusion Applications was interesting enough that I will offer a separate posting on it soon.  Not surprisingly, the date for general availability continues to recede while the description of what it will be (and why we should care) continues to become increasingly clear.  To me the most important aspect of the presentation was what was not said – absolutely no effort was made to convince JDE partners to encourage our customers to switch to Fusion. 

The sales pitch for Fusion Applications could not have been more low-key.  To vastly over-simplify, Oracle seems to me to be saying “We have this cool new generation of apps in beta that will slowly emerge in the next few years but do not worry.  They will not have a meaningful impact on current JDE customers for quite some time to come.”  For the small number of people that are susceptible to the argument by competitors that JDE is dead and soon to be replaced, this represented one more assurance that there is little to worry about. 

Oracle’s well documented habit of spending as little as possible on marketing continued to be evident at this event.  The arrangements and venue were fine (a campus of nice buildings near Denver that Oracle inherited from Sun).  I felt that it was tacky that partners were asked to sponsor various activities such as meals, breaks, etc.  If partners are as valuable as Oracle says they are then why not open the wallet wide enough to put on a nice event for us once per year.  I may sound like a cranky old man waving my cane in the air about this, but grumbling about it feels good. 

Overall, the Partner Summit was an outstanding opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with the people that that are keeping the JDE ecosystem strong.  I welcome others that were there to add additional thoughts and observations.

 Speculation always seems to be fashionable at the start of a new year.  Why not engage in some regarding where Oracle is likely to focus its attention in 2011?  Before doing so, the obvious observation must be made that Oracle is currently on a roll. It appears to be poised for another year of growth, prosperity and profitability.  Almost all of its products are doing well.  At the same time, not every part of the business will see the same level of attention from management or the outside world. 

In this spirit, I offer my 2011 list of what is hot and not for Oracle.  As always, other opinions are welcome: 

What’s hot: 

  • Appliances.  It is hard to tell whether Larry Ellison is prouder of his Americas Cup or his new line of Exalogic and Exadata appliances.  Look for more in 2011.
  • Private clouds.  Ellison is hoping he can magically convince the world that his new generation of pseudo mainframes can somehow take the place of cloud computing.   Watching him try is going to be great fun.
  • Acquisitions.  Oracle is hooked on buying companies and will not likely slow down.  The theme for 2011 is most likely more hardware.  EMC might be beyond reach but a chip foundry such as AMR could easily fit into the mix.
  • Fusion Applications will finally start to be installed at real customer sites soon but we do not expect them to be heavily hyped until the next OpenWorld.
  • Unbreakable Linux is another Ellison pet project. 

What’s relatively warm: 

  • EPM, an amorphous term Oracle uses for its family of BI products.  It often is shorthand for the collection of financial packages picked up from Hyperion.
  • Java initially appeared to be the crown jewel of the Sun acquisition but has since been pushed down the priority stack.
  • Edge applications are no longer a major acquisition target but could be the basis for a serious cross-selling campaign. 
  • eBusiness Suite is the only legacy Oracle application suite that seems to get any serious love from Redwood Shores.  

Quietly simmering on the back of the stove: 

  • Database products rarely see the limelight but remain the mother of all cash cows.
  • Middleware continues to quietly thrive and grow with almost no fanfare.
  • JDE and PeopleSoft applications grind along with largely satisfied customer bases that neither demand nor get a lot of attention.
  • Solaris was ignored at OpenWorld in favor of Linux.
  • Traditional Sun servers and their SPARC processors just trudge ahead.
  • OBIA, once the crown jewel of Oracle’s BI strategy, has fallen victim to politics.  It wasn’t invented by Hyperion and is hard to sell so it gets little attention.
  • Services enjoy the benign neglect of Oracle management while HP, IBM and even Dell invest heavily in growing this facet of their businesses. 

The Sun acquisition showed that Oracle’s focus and strategy can change quickly.  I still think that come this time next year the list above won’t have changed very much.  All we will hear about in 2011 will be the things at the top of the list while the rest quietly make most of the record profits Oracle is likely to report.

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