OpenWorld 2012: What's in store

A wealth of software, hardware and "engineered systems" news is on tap

With each year, Oracle becomes a bigger company and in turn, so does its annual OpenWorld conference, which kicks off Sunday in San Francisco.

In fact, Oracle's long run of acquisitions, spanning from applications to middleware to hardware, has resulted in so many partner and customer constituencies that it's now co-locating a number of additional shows, including MySQL Connect and JavaOne, along with the main OpenWorld program.

Here's a look at what's scheduled for the week, as well as what sort of surprises Oracle may have in store.

Database 12c: Despite its forays into business applications and hardware, at its core Oracle remains a database company, and it will announce version 12c, with the c standing for "cloud," during OpenWorld.

CEO Larry Ellison already publicly revealed this fact recently and also described some of the release's new features, which include support for multitenancy and "pluggable" databases.

But the deep-dive into 12c probably won't come until Monday, when co-president Mark Hurd and database chief Andy Mendelsohn deliver a joint keynote.

While Oracle will no doubt make sure 12c's debut is nice and splashy, as with past versions most customers probably won't upgrade until 12c release 2, preferring to feel comfortable that the bugs have been worked out.

Engineered systems news: There seems to be little doubt that Oracle will announce a next-generation version of the Exadata database machine, the first and flagship member of its family of "engineered systems" combining software with servers, networking and storage.

Ellison has a keynote slated for Sunday which seems like the probable launch pad for an Exadata announcement, as well as other new engineered systems products.

With Oracle already having analytics-related machines in the market with Exadata and the Big Data appliance, as well as an application server box called Exalogic, its next step could be systems that add a layer of pre-integrated business applications.

Hard times for hardware: Oracle has de-emphasized commodity servers in favor of the engineered systems, which can really be looked at as delivery vehicles for lots of separately licensed Oracle software that draws lucrative annual maintenance revenue year after year.

Still, top-line hardware revenues have been in decline. And although the hardware systems business "was very profitable" in fiscal 2012, "the profitability of this business as we measure it did not grow from the prior fiscal year," Oracle said in a recently filed proxy statement. As a result, systems chief John Fowler didn't get a cash bonus, according to the proxy.

Last year, Oracle announced the SPARC SuperCluster T4-4 system. This year, it may feature a sequel to that high-profile release.

The status of Fusion Applications: It took Oracle a bit longer than hoped-for to bring its next-generation Fusion Applications to market, but the suite of ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer relationship management), HCM (human capital management) and other software finally became generally available last year.

But Oracle has a number of updates to provide with respect to Fusion, namely the rate of customer adoption and live projects, as well as a public subscription price list for deployments in its recently launched cloud service.

The "top level message" for Fusion Applications will be a "focus on customer adoption and their success," Oracle executive vice president of application development Steve Miranda said during a "Tweet chat" event this week on Twitter.

Miranda also acknowledged the lack of public pricing, which is common among SaaS vendors, but said Oracle's fees are "competitive."

MySQL Connect: Anyone looking for a concrete sense of where Oracle is headed with the development of its open-source MySQL database should attend a joint keynote scheduled for Saturday featuring Tomas Ulin, vice president of MySQL engineering, and Edward Screven, Oracle's chief corporate architect.

The talk will give showgoers a look at "Oracle's MySQL strategy, and the key latest developments including product releases, roadmap and community," according to the event's description.

While many MySQL users expressed fear over the database's future following Oracle's acquisition of previous owner Sun Microsystems, the presence of Screven, a longtime Oracle employee who reports directly to Ellison, could underscore the vendor's commitment to the platform.

Bottomless cups of Java: The JavaOne conference, which starts Sunday, will give attendees a look at where the open-source Java programming language is going from a number of perspectives.

A keynote covering Oracle's future strategy for Java, as well as a technical Java keynote, are scheduled for Sunday. Later in the week, a keynote covering Java community issues is on tap. This is all on top of some 400 planned sessions.

Oracle's Amazon Web Services?: Ellison also revealed during last week's earnings call that Oracle will announce a new IaaS (infrastructure as a service) offering at OpenWorld, but didn't mention many details.

The CEO may provide more information on Sunday, but it seems more likely that the nitty-gritty details will come on Wednesday during a keynote by Fowler and other executives.

One general question that may be answered is whether Oracle is interested in competing head-to-head with the likes of Amazon Web Services and Rackspace for all sorts of IaaS business, or mostly planning to offer the IaaS to existing customers who would ordinarily use those other services.

Overall, Oracle's entry into IaaS "is likely to mean one thing: lower prices for computing power from all of the big incumbents," Canaccord Genuity analyst Richard Davis said in a research note issued Friday.

This is good news for "disruptive technology startups" and SaaS (software as a service) vendors as well, according to Davis.

Bragging rights: San Franciscans are still reeling from the last big software event held at the Moscone Center, Salesforce.com's Dreamforce. That show reportedly drew 90,000 registered attendees, a figure helped by the fact there was no charge to attend keynotes as well as a number of musical events.

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff crowed that this year's Dreamforce was the industry's largest-ever "vendor-led" enterprise technology event.

Given that he and Ellison have a long-standing rivalry, it's not so surprising that Oracle is offering a special US$75 "Discover Pass" to OpenWorld, which provides entry to keynotes, the exhibition hall, the Oracle music festival and other aspects of the show, albeit none of the 2,000 sessions.

Oracle isn't promising that more than 90,000 people will show up in San Francisco for OpenWorld, but the vendor is still making some big claims.

Some 50,000 showgoers from 123 countries will attend in person, on top of a cool million tuning in online, and the show will have a $120 million economic impact on the Bay area, according to an official blog post.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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