Officially, I was at Oracle Open World to preach about clouds. My personal goal was to listen and learn. Here’s what I’m coming away with.
Previous instalments in my OOW coverage:
Big Red — unstructured early impressions.
Day 2 — mostly keynote coverage.
Cloud @OOW — argues that there’s a substantial audience interested in clouds.
For listen-and-learn purposes, the keynote sessions were useful. The technical sessions were less so, since they were by and large aimed at very specific configurations of Oracle products; of the form “Hot New Features in PeopleSoft 9.1”.
The hallway and lunchtime conversations were still more useful. And I found that watching the #oow09 tweetstream back-channel in parallel with the action was incredibly informative.
High-Level · More of the people I talked to cared about the applications than about the middleware, and more about the middleware than the database, and more about the database than the combination of hardware and OS and so on underneath it.
Whenever the keynoters (including Larry) were focusing on the hardware or OS or I/O rates or storage capacities or replication features, there was a steady background grumble going on from people who wanted to be hearing about the apps. In particular the much-awaited new “Fusion” apps; the hunger for them was palpable.
Let me quote a much-retweeted offering from Forrester’s Paul Hamerman: “I would suggest that Oracle consider a business focused event featuring apps and processes, separate from platforms...” Yup.
Also, as a small experiment, I asked a random selection of people “Which storage products are you running on?” A half-dozen people, all from big companies whose names you’d recognize, and not one of them knew. Or, apparently, cared; I was getting these “What did he just ask?” looks.
Legacy · I also asked people about pain points, and they were all over the map, but one did stick out: dealing with legacy. The fact is that companies grow in messy non-linear unpredictable ways, and this almost inevitably leaves behind a messy non-linear inventory of business-critical infrastructure and apps.
Michael Dell in particular hammered away on this in his keynote, and based on what I heard he’s got a point; there’s nothing these people would like better than to get their houses retroactively in order.
The problem is, there’s just no easy way. If you could wave a wand and accomplish it by force of management will, we’d be there by now. I already believed that legacy migration is an area full of great big honking business opportunities, and after this conference, I think I may have been underestimating.
I was struck by the variety of technologies that got the “legacy” label pinned on them. This included COBOL, C++, WebSphere (!?), and back versions of various Oracle products.
User Interfaces · There was some negative buzz about user-interface issues. And by the standards of the public-facing social Web properties I live among, the Oracle apps are pretty humdrum. Which I’m not sure is a real problem; if an app gets out of your way and lets you manage your supply chain or your travel expenses or whatever, who cares if it’s a little drab? But there was plenty of background buzz from people whining about the look-and-feel.
There’s a Flickr set of Oracle Fusion Application screenshots; aside from lack of anti-aliasing, they look about like I’d expect from a modern business app.
Big · You can talk about legacy and apps and databases and business and technology all you want, but the #1 impression any reasonable person would have to take away from OOW is its overwhelming size. The logistics work, just barely, but the efforts to make it all happen must be titanic.
If it were a tight community of people with closely-shared common interests, that might be OK, but it’s not; people sitting at the same lunch table often ended up talking baseball, kids, and pets, after they discovered their involvements with Oracle didn’t really intersect.
What Would I Change? · My advice to the organizers of Oracle Open World would be:
Break it up. The developers, DBAs, and businesspeople just aren’t in positive-synergy mode. There are three or more manageable, focused conferences inside OOW struggling to get out.
In fact, it’s already happening; the Oracle Develop sessions were sequestered away in dingy little rooms in the Hilton, many blocks from the main venue. People were straggling into my session steadily all the way through; they’d been in the keynotes and hadn’t realized they had a long walk to a whole other venue.
In any case, if Oracle hits some of its growth targets, the conference should grow briskly and, well, I just don’t think that’s practicable.
Give the audience credit for being smart. I can’t count the number of times when, after some very straightforward demo, the presenter would say “What we just showed you was...” and then read bullet points off a slide. Gimme a break.
Cut some marketers out the loop. I found it painful, and a time-waster, to listen to a smart guy like Thomas Kurian intone those long unnatural adjective-studded sentences that had obviously been through several rounds of marketing polish (“Oh, and make sure you mention ‘best of breed’”). I think if you turned him loose to tell the audience what Oracle product development is working on and why, and what they think is important, you’d have a shorter, punchier, and immensely more compelling audience experience.
Having said all that, I was left feeling huge respect for the folk who pull this monster together and make it work pretty well.
And the people of Oracle should be proud that their products have sufficient pull to bring a gathering of this scale together.