Oracle starts the first full day of Open World today down one game in its best of five series with its customers after two uninspired keynotes by HP EVP Ann Livingston and CEO Larry Ellison. Not to belabor the point, but I must, HP’s, keynote was a run of the mill commercial while Ellison’s was short on vission.
Mercifully HP’s effort was short and to the point. Unfortunately it seemed to me, and the analysts around me, that it was last year’s message if not a verbatim re-presentation. It could be condensed into a simple tag line — buy more stuff, please. Got it.
Neither speech ignited a huge Sunday night audience that was clearly set to be launched into a week of discovery and learning. There was no theme, which seemed odd to me because candidates abounded. Absent any mention of the sour economy and our need to climb out of two years of tough times, the business climate naturally took on the aura of the proverbial eight hundred pound gorilla.
Some nod to this reality and a link to technology as a savior that can help all companies rise above their circumstances was all that was needed but not supplied. Instead we got more or less a grocery list of important things that could have carried greater impact if they’d been arranged better.
Larry Ellison didn’t seem to be on his game. His talk lacked what the first George Bush called “the vision thing” even as he introduced a new hardware offering — Exalogic — a combination of Sun technology, Oracle database, virtual machines and support for several flavors of Unix. Exalogic looks like a real computing beast capable of running all of Facebook on two racks. Exalogic is fault tolerant and boasts a host of added value over its nearest SMP rival from IBM and costs about 75% less but Oracle managed to bury the lede in an avalanch of details that would have been better left for a breakout session.
When Ellison wasn’t extolling the considerable virtues of Exalogic he was trying to redefine cloud computing or, curiously, bashing Red Hat Linux. I am not a Unix guy but apparently the difference between Red Hat Unix and Red Hat Compatible Unix from Oracle is something to care about. I think it got silly when Ellison said Oracle does not test its database with Red Hat, only with its compatible offering, and that Red Hat returns the favor. I am not sure many customers were reassured.
I am something of a cloud computing guy though, having followed its evolution at least as long as anyone in the audience or perhaps even on the planet. I remember the bad old days of client-server architected systems that broke easily because they lacked standards and because they were incredibly difficult to build and maintain.
I also remember the high costs of systems that took two or three times the software license fee to pay for customization and implementation. Cloud computing and its direct antecedents brought those days to an end replacing them with multi-tenant internet accessible solutions that have made gains in robustness, reliability and power every year for over a decade.
The fashion today is for recent converts to cloud computing to cherry pick the gains and consolidate them into what they are calling cloud computing. The formula that the industry is settling on includes browser based interfaces and software managed on a server farm off in the distance but not multi-tenancy. This enables them to appropriate the cloud business model of charging by use and offering what they call elasticity for computing power. Elasticity is a very good thing but cloud computing should be more than infrastructure as a service.
This conception of cloud computing, which looks a lot like a time sharing redux, preserves the most lucrative parts of the old software licensing paradigm complete with the need for a smaller army of developers to knit it all together.
Such is Oracle’s conception of what cloud computing should be and for reinforcement it points to Amazon’s EC2 model as proof. In the Oracle conception the pioneering bookseller is on the leading edge of advanced technology while the trailblazing Salesforce.com is merely ten years old and destined for history’s ash heap. This definition is gaining altitude but only in the way that any other flat earth theory repeated often enough sounds credible.
Of course, this kind of one-upsmanship has been a staple of the software industry for decades and the rest of the cloud community will have many opportunities to present its case beginning as soon as Wednesday when Marc Benioff invades the Yerba Buena Theater to give his own version and vision of cloud computing.
Nothing is guaranteed in life but I would bet body parts that Benioff will give a thoughtful and inspiring talk on the future of cloud computing — just the thing that we badly needed but didn’t get on Sunday.
Today the sessions start and the real information exchanges can begin in earnest. There is an incredibly full docket and I am confident that things will look a lot different by day’s end. The pitching staff failed in the first game, but as in baseball, you can’t do anything about yesterday so don’t dwell on it. Today’s game will be better.