Tag Archives: cloud computing

Thoughts on Oracle Open World 2014

I’m not sure quite what to say about Oracle Open World 2014 that I didn’t already say in my tweet stream. That won’t stop me from trying, though. It’s my job, and it’s also fun trying to make a picture from all the jigsaw pieces we were handed.

There’s been a lot of talk about “the changing face of Oracle,” with efforts apparently being made to soften the notoriously hard-edged tech monolith’s public image. Whatever you may choose to make of it, there was certainly some of this attitude on display this past week. Not only were executives more numerous and available, they were more present—meaning they seemed to have real interest in sharing their plans with the public, and getting feedback from the 60,000 customers, partners and analysts in attendance. For some of them, this isn’t a change; Steve Miranda, EVP of applications development, has always been an exemplar of what a public-facing exec should be, and now that Meg Bear, group VP of Oracle Social Cloud, has joined the company, he’s not alone in that. You can keep your Safra Catz and Mark Hurd (as long as we can still use the puntastic “herding cats” imagery)—these are the sort of people I want to talk to, and who need to be heard.

Larry Ellison has stepped down as CEO, which should be news to nobody at this point. With him free to focus on technology (at least when he’s not doing chairman stuff), it feels like discussions about Oracle tech are going to be a lot more fun from now on. It’s clear that he likes talking about it, evangelizing, and tossing barbs at the competition, and I get the sense he will be less restrained now. While this means more opportunities for crotch-punching among all those industry leaders—as evidenced by the utter lambasting of SAP HANA this year, in front of the former SAP exec who championed it—I guess there’s the hope that it’ll feel less official coming from the chairman, CTO, and largest non-institutional shareholder.

Another factor is that Oracle is truly starting to embrace cloud computing as a fundamental part of their business. They’ve even stated that moving customers to the cloud is a matter of when, not if—though of course they also say that nobody will ever be forced to give up on-premises deployments. Nobody was forced to give up horses either, but how many people still ride?

The technology on display this year was fine. Nothing groundbreaking in my opinion, unless you happen to be a VAR, in which case you had better make sure the rug hasn’t just been pulled out from under you. Specifically, users now have the ability to move their Oracle apps to and from the cloud by more or less pushing a button or two, and those apps will be modernized and updated automatically, all without having to alter existing code. Furthermore, Oracle claims to have built social, mobile, and analytic support directly into the database, so adding those functions to apps should be much easier. If this works as well as demos have shown, a lot of systems integrators out there will be scrambling to learn new tricks.

Despite seeing the word “innovation” in a lot of presentations this year, I think it’s misleading. What we’ve seen is smart continuation of existing efforts. Oracle is taking all the neato things that are possible with today’s computing power and making them commonly available. Former Oracle senior VP and general manager Anthony Lye was fond of saying the company was not necessarily an innovator, but a fast follower. This is fine by me. I’m getting the sense that there’s enough wisdom in the company to know that it’s not just about providing the hardware and software, but about understanding why their customers want it and how they want to use it.

I’m looking forward to hearing the responses from other vendors in the coming days and weeks—Dreamforce is right around the corner, after all—and watching it all play out in the coming year. I close these after-action reports with some variation on the above every year, but this year it seems more true than ever before.

Open World 2014, open

So it’s official: Unless something bad happens, I will once again be in attendance at Oracle Open World this year. This is the second confirmation on my summer/fall conference list. (The other, CRM Evolution, was set months ago.) More to follow as they come.

Open World 2014 is the last week of September into October, so Big Red isn’t exactly waiting for the last minute or anything. This year’s AR/PR team has some new faces mixed with the veterans, and I know the experience, if not the same, will be just as good. Oracle has traditionally done a very good job with the cushier aspects of making potential critics feel welcome.

I’m looking forward to the conference, as usual, and figure now’s as good a time as any to ask readers and followers if there’s anything specific they’d like me to look for while I’m there. For my own part, I want to see a summary of how the half-score of Cloud initiatives launched last year have fared. Call me lazy—I do it all the time—but while I know how several of them have done, I want somebody to help out with broad context.

For another thing, I have to admit I am still excited by the Big Data and in-memory computing products that were on display last year. Big Data is tired and even a bit inaccurate, as buzzwords go, but the concepts behind bringing supermassive analytics to business users still astounds me. That and in-memory computing really appeal to the geek in me, even though I’m not competent with hardware.

Most of all, I will get to share thoughts and arguments with some of the finest minds in enterprise computing. I always come out of these things energized and enlightened, so I can pass on what I’ve learned.

Tech Term Convergence at SuiteWorld 2014

I recently attended SuiteWorld 2014, the annual conference hosted by ERP cloud vendor NetSuite, and it was a good experience. Spending time with NetSuite almost always is, really; the applications are like Goldilocks’ porridge—not too sparse, not too overloaded with gadgets, just right. Your mileage may vary, and this is as much a personal assessment as it is a professional one.

If you’re looking for highlights of the announcements, see my Twitter stream. For me though, the big takeaway was not what had been added to NetSuite’s back-office capabilities, nor its front-office ones. Rather, it was a new set of questions about the nature of labels like CRM and ERP, and of what goes into them.

In his keynote, CEO Zach Nelson compared what NetSuite does to what CRM vendors claim to do, and suggested that customer experience and satisfaction were driven more by ERP functions than by CRM. When you contact a company, some of the most common reasons are to inquire about a bill, check on an order, or make a purchase. None of those things can happen unless the customer (or the service rep) can access data from the warehouse or the accounting department. ERP is what tells the company where your merchandise is and where the money is. From a transactional point of view, ERP is CRM.

Just as ERP fills a CRM role sometimes, so does CRM manage corporate resources. Marketing and sales materials need to be created, refined, and distributed while being tracked against budget and time. You’re planning what to do with those enterprise resources, and you wouldn’t turn to an Accounts Payable clerk to do it. Reputation and brand identity, two of the most important assets a business has (though admittedly somewhat abstract and not traditional resources) are likewise governed with technology we call CRM.

It’s wrong to say that ERP is better at CRM functions than the apps we think of as CRM, nor vice-versa. The problem is that both sides can claim to perform functions they don’t actually do. ERP is not about building relationships, anticipating needs, or managing demand, and CRM is not about getting orders packed, shipped, and paid for. Each may have some elements of the other, but they can’t replace one another in most cases.

I’m not the only person who started thinking about this. Several enjoyable conversations later, with the likes of Cindy Jutras, Laurie McCabe, and Denis Pombriant (who clarified the issue for me as only he can), I came to the conclusion that the labels are artificial, and often distracting. At some level, it’s just a matter of convenience to use those terms, some jargon that provides a rough overview of what’s in the topic.

The issue isn’t front office and back office, or CRM and ERP. It’s system of record and system of engagement. It’s where you imagine the heart of your business to reside, and how your connect it to the other parts. Multiple systems of record makes little sense—one version of the truth is enough for anybody except politicians. Multiple systems of engagement used to be acceptable, even necessary, but no longer. Presenting a unified face to the customer, and being able to server them equally in whatever channel they choose to engage, is the new norm.

Without an effective system of record, a business is chaos. Orders can’t be fulfilled, payments can’t be made or received, and there is no answer to questions. Without an effective system of engagement, you’re a shop with locked doors and windows. Customers don’t know what you offer, and you don’t know who wants to buy. Both systems are necessary, and both must work together. Whether all the applications come from one vendor, or they’re integrated from multiple sources, the result has to synergize.

I’m not going to erase the CRM and ERP labels by thinking this way, and I’m not sure I want to. What I want is for vendors, analysts, journalists, and consultants to look beyond the labels, look beyond the limitations they falsely suggest, and consider enterprise software as an ecosystem instead of a bunchasystems.

 

A Simple But Brilliant Plan

Took a briefing the other day, regarding Elastic Intelligence’s new company/product, Connection Cloud. About a third of the way through it, I had one of those moments. You know, the one where you say aloud, “Why hasn’t anybody done this yet? Why haven’t I done this yet?”

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, which means you have no idea what I’m talking about. Let me back up. Connection Cloud is a service that answers a question that users have made since the birth of software as a service: “How do I keep control of my data?”

In theory, your data is always yours, and you can move it around or feed it into disparate BI and reporting applications however you like. In practice, data is resident in the platform on which the business systems are built, and connectors must be coded to have those apps talk to each other and report on the same data, not copies of it.

Connection Cloud fills the role of middle man—or middleware, if you prefer—by being a data switchboard with connectors available for everything. It can pull info from any cloud application or group of applications into the reporting system of your choice, and refresh as often as you like. Build a report in any app, whether Excel or any SaaS vendor’s product, and you can populate it nearly instantly with live data. Not a static dump, not a preconfigured subset. Choose the fields you want and make your report happen.

I am very enthusiastic about Connection Cloud, which is strange because my focus is usually on customer experience and the use of social media, not running reports. The fact is, though, businesses run on information. They need to understand more than just what’s happening at the point of service, and that means detailed reporting of operational data. Anything that provides more access and easier management to that data makes it easier for businesses to operate with confidence, and without fear that working with a SaaS provider is a one-way street.

Am I being horribly naive about this? Have I missed something in the past several years? Let me know in the comments, because I think Connection Cloud is dead clever, and it’s doing something necessary and (so far) unique.

SAS Analytics and Why It Matters to Customer Experience

I just got back from a brief but intense conference with SAS. Followers of customer experience, social CRM, and other related topics will know SAS from … well, they might not know SAS very well at all. This is both understandable and a shame, but more on that in a moment.

On display at the the SAS Premiere Business Leadership conference were everything from customer stories of how high-powered analytical tools get them closer to their customers, all the way to computing clusters that eat terabytes of data in seconds and spit out detailed reports and predictive models in near real time. I got to watch a live demo of SAS Visual Analytics, a program that makes what used to take an advanced degree to create and turns it into a drag-and-drop tool with as much granularity and complexity as you want. It’s not just a dashboard, mind you—detailed reports with multiple variables and axes (the plural of axis, not the plural of chopping tool) can be built on the fly, several levels deep. The kicker? It’s all processed server-side so you can run it on a tablet as easily as on a PC.

Those servers aren’t necessarily budget-breakers either. SAS has been putting a lot of effort into working well in Hadoop clusters, inexpensive distributed computing environments operating under the Apache Hadoop open-source framework. There’s nothing to stop a company from running SAS on something like an Oracle grid (except maybe Oracle preferring you run Exalytics), but it doesn’t have to. Tremendous power is working its way into the hands of smaller and smaller businesses with each advancement; trickle-down theory doesn’t work in economics, but it works like crazy in computing.

SAS also talked bout products for information management, fraud detection, and hospitality/entertainment businesses (complete with their relevance to the average person), most of which are already in the wild or will be available by December.

An example of that relevance: Imagine a credit card company running multiple loyalty programs for cash back, discounts, etc., across multiple cards, each with a number of messages and contacts for customers. Customer X only wants a small number of contacts per day/week. Analytics can optimize and decide which messages to send for best results. It’s a very complex analysis that could take 4-6 hours. With the new system, running the same SAS interface, the company can do it in 2-4 minutes. Similarly, a retailer can manage pricing across thousands of SKUs and hundreds of shops on an individual level, rather than by region.

If you’re wondering at the amount of attention I’ve been devoting lately to high-end hardware, middleware, and enterprise software that the typical customer will never see or even know exists, let me explain. As much as I love the intimacy and immediacy of social CRM, customer experience, and all things SMB, it doesn’t happen ex nihilo. Businesses can track your preferences and history, make decisions about you as a customer, and provide compelling offers only because of advanced analytical engines running on powerful computing backbones. While it’s nice to imagine a team of elves personally interacting with you and evaluating your account, the fact remains that those elves are actually massive computing resources digesting millions of lines of database entries every second. Unstructured data—the kind that comes from social tools—is especially hard to manage, and the amount of it is growing at a rate that has storage vendors drooling.

Analytics, grid computing, in-memory operations—these are how the sausage is made, and the more advanced it gets the better the sausage tastes. Understanding what’s happening behind the CRM suite and the social platform makes me that much better at my job.

Besides, all that metal, silicon, and Big Data feeds a deep-seated geek desire in me for tech porn with MOAR POWAH! Petrol heads and overclockers know what I’m talking about. The possibility that all this face-melting power will make my life more science fiction than it already is sets me all a-quiver.

Oracle OpenWorld, Part 3: The NetSuite Addendum

Oracle OpenWorld got me reacquainted with SaaS ERP and CRM provider NetSuite, as part of a week that was all about making clear that which had been a bit foggy for a while. I hope you’re not expecting me to be writing about how NetSuite has re-emerged, because they never went away. The fault is all mine for not providing more coverage of the company the past couple of years—I let the San Mateo-based company drop off my radar because their primary focus is ERP, while mine is not.

There are two reasons this was a mistake (three, actually, but only two of them matter to you). The first is that NetSuite’s CRM prowess, while not the thing that brings most customers to the door, has been consistently excellent over the years, good enough to rival any CRM vendor’s offering. Second is that the company has found a way of making ERP relevant to customer experience, which is no mean feat—more about that in a moment.

The third reason is that the NetSuite team is composed of some of my very favorite people in the industry, and I’ve done them a disservice by not staying in touch. It has nothing to do with the lovely dinners and bottles of liquor they’ve bought me in times past, not the CES-level swag that often accompanies their conferences and other gatherings. I mention that because it’s always a good idea for people like me to disclose what might serve to bias us in a company’s favor. It takes a lot to bribe me, though; I’m perfectly happy to pee in a vendor’s Cheerios if I think there’s something wrong with their products or strategy, no matter how nice they’ve been to me; the best they can hope for in such a case is that I’ll try not to be mean about it. Fortunately, NetSuite has given me no reason for any cereal micturation.

Here’s what got me back in the business of observing NetSuite. The company showed off a very snazzy e-commerce engine that runs directly on top of the two-tiered ERP system that’s part of NetSuite OneWorld. I say snazzy because there’s nothing basic-looking about it; you get a highly polished front end for the minimal required work of setting a few parameters and telling the system what colors and logos it should use.

The two-tier ERP concept is pretty clever in its own right; the system allows users to run NetSuite OneWorld ERP at subsidiaries and satellite offices, while maintaining the value of its existing investment in on-premises ERP software (in this case Oracle’s) at the home office.

I am probably assuming facts not in evidence, but the sample we were shown seemed superior to anything I’ve used as a consumer—uncluttered, sensible, and minimalist, yet vibrant and friendly enough to draw the user along the buying process. I haven’t had a proper demo—as I said, we’ve been out of touch—but I plan to rectify that ASAP and let you know what’s going on with NetSuite behind the pretty face.

I will caution you not to take my initial enthusiasm as anything more than that; because I have recollections of NetSuite products from just a couple of years ago, and am impressed with what little I’ve seen, I am inclined to think the company’s offerings are still strong. However, I also recall a notable lack of redundant data centers just a couple of years ago, and it appears they still only have the one. It should also be noted that there’s a good reason for NetSuite to be present at an Oracle conference: Larry Ellison owns a consiberable stake in NetSuite, and in fact his money is what founder Evan Goldberg used to get started in 1998. If Oracle wants to buy itself some new toys, NetSuite is always a possible target—and that has to factor into any assessment I make.

Oracle OpenWorld 2012, Part 2

Welcome back to my assessment of this year’s Oracle extravaganza. Last time, I talked (wrote) about the crunchier products—hardware, databases, infrastructure—and how Oracle’s message seemed finally to unify around how it all supported the operational and customer-facing products like applications and analytics. Today, I’m going to dive into those components and what Big Red’s direction is for them.

As long as I’ve known the company, Oracle’s direction has been hard to pin down, largely because it keeps acquiring companies from widely diverse fields. The acquisitions have continued, but I believe they’ve become more focused. I’m happy to report said focus (at least what I’ve been paying attention to) has been social-powered CRM, analytics, and knowledge management. These acquisitions combine nicely with Oracle’s internal development to make a strong case for customers who want to strengthen their B2B and B2C capabilities with social tech.

That said, I can’t say there’s anything truly new on the applications side. New for Oracle, yes; new to me or customers of its new purchases, not so much. For example, the company put a big push behind the kickoff of Oracle CX (formerly RightNow CX) and rightly so—but I’ve seen it all before. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I love RightNow and the people who work for it, and think its inclusion in the Oracle footprint will do wonders to humanize Oracle’s customer-facing capabilities.

RightNow/Oracle CX has made one notable change in Oracle’s approach to the topic of CRM. To paraphrase Anthony Lye, senior VP of cloud applications, CX is a larger strategy of which CRM is a component. Works for me. I don’t care what you call it—as long as the customer retains voice and agency in the relationship, it’s all good.

Lye illustrated the intersection of CX and CRM with an example from Starbucks. When McDonald’s launched its McCafes, a lower-cost option than Starbucks with good coffee and backed by a ubiquitous brand, Starbucks found itself having to deal with a major competitive force for the first time. It figured that out of every 10 people, 2 would always choose Starbucks and 2 would always choose a low cost option like McCafe. The question, then, was how to get the names of those other 6 people?

The solution was to extend the loyalty program. A free cup of coffee for every 15 purchases and some special direct offers in exchange for contact info. Oracle real-time analytics lets the customer know which local shop has the shortest lines, so they can minimize the wait, and order from home or smart phone and pick up their beverage where it’s most convenient. And the loyalty card has a failsafe policy; if the loyalty card POS fails on you for any reason, you get your drink free. Starbucks is not my favorite purveyor of earthy black goodness, but I have to give the company credit where due; using customer experience in a competitive way is something it’s always done well, and feeding the CRM system with it like this is beautiful.

One net new thing on display at OpenWorld was Fusion Tap, Oracle’s mobile framework for Fusion apps. This is not a dumbed-down mobile UI for tablets and smart phone—it is a mobile pathway direct to Fusion. If you can do it on your desktop, you can do it on your tablet with Tap. Native support is already available for some phones and tabs, with more on the way, supplementing its support of HTML5. Naturally, users can operate offline and cache their work for later upload. A report created in a Fusion application is available in Tap’s KPI area, and any fields changed in CRM are automatically updated in Tap, because it’s all the same data from the same source.

Fusion Tap is essentially free, in that it’s built into the license of whatever Fusion-enabled SaaS products you have. It’s SaaS-only for the moment, and includes recent acquisitions Taleo and RightNow. (No, you can’t have a discount if you don’t want Tap; I asked.)

Certain users, such as the C-suite, field personnel, and salesfolk, can potentially do all their work on a tablet thanks to Tap. An accountant or PR account executive could too, but it’s not likely to be very comfortable or efficient for them. If you have to attach a keyboard, you may as well be using a notebook, right?

In summary, this was the best Oracle OpenWorld I’ve attended in a few years. Critics will say the keynotes and briefings were light on specifics, and they are right. I don’t come here for that—I get deep-dive briefings with executives during the year that answer that need. No, I come to OpenWorld to take the pulse of the customers, see how the endless string of acquisitions are being integrated into the Oracle brand, and get a sense of whether the company knows where it’s going. Those needs have been satisfied.

Tune in next time when I devote an entire post to a company that piggybacked a couple of events onto the conference, and reminded me why they need to be considered in the big picture. NetSuite, I’m talking about you.

Oracle OpenWorld 2012, Part 1

Every year, I come to Oracle Open World. Almost every year, I leave with a combination of excitement (for technical innovation and the possibilities inherent in the applications) and a vague sense of disappointment (in corporate direction and messaging). As of this writing we haven’t discussed the applications yet—I’ll talk about that in Part 2—but I think my disappointment in the other stuff is over.

Influencers in CRM and customer-facing technology (some consider me a member of that group) have been critical of Oracle’s strategy the past few years, because it hasn’t been terribly clear. We respect the company’s position as a “fast follower” (in Anthony Lye’s words) where applications are concerned, but we expect some kind of leadership and vision nonetheless. The messaging has been focused on hardware and middleware, things that turn on the server farmers but don’t apply directly to line-of-business personnel. This year, the reason for all the investment in infrastructure products was expressed clearly for the first time in quite a while.

Large enterprise applications and infrastructure are expensive. Oracle Database 12c running on Exadata X3 metal and silicon makes that level of power much cheaper and greener. While this is good news for big companies, it also means that smaller entities will have access as well. If—as Larry Ellison and others claim—the new tech has 100 times the power, then it follows that you can have the current level of power with one one-hundredth the infrastructure.

Let me be clear. Oracle is a big corporation, whose customers are one level removed from the ones I’m typically most interested in—the customer’s of Oracle’s customers. But Oracle’s technology combined with its sheer size can drive economies of scale that benefit the person on the street. Trickle-down economics doesn’t work, but trickle-down technology does.

Data management is also getting a shot in the arm. Oracle announced Oracle Database 12c—”the c is for cloud”—which is claimed to be the first multitenant database. Nobody is saying that Oracle invented multitenancy, but all of the databases and other systems that did MT were built on old technology that wasn’t really intended to support it. This new one is designed from the start to be multitenant, allowing better performance and security than one that had to be tweaked to do the job.

ODB 12c is a pluggable database, serving as a database of databases (wow, that’s meta). Rather than managing disparate DBs in their own silos, 12c becomes the management platform for all of them.

Since it’s cloud, ODB 12c is being touted as enabling infrastructure as a service: IaaS, or infrastructure in the cloud. The X3 hardware allows such high volumes of throughput and in-memory computing that more of the computing load can be done remotely.

Does all of this work? I have no idea, but I really hope so. Not only do they have the potential to be game-changing in their own areas, but they extend the capabilities of any software applications you care to develop. Developers have access to a whole new level of processing power and data management, and it will cost users less to access it.

There is always the question of customer lock-in, especially as Oracle has stated its intention to own the business technology environment, from racks to apps. This doesn’t need to be the case; while Oracle will likely get a huge bump as its customers trade their now-obsolete tech for new, they will be buying the tools to let them develop their own tech, which will compete with (and in some cases outperform) Oracle. Yes, Oracle wins no matter what, but they don’t necessarily monopolize the industry.

Tune in next time when we review what this all means to Oracle line-of-business applications and software in general. Expect there to be a lot of interest in how the new toys will crank social data analytics up to eleven.

Insight on Salesforce’s Next Move

It’s my pleasure to share somebody else’s research with you from time to time, and this time it comes from Lauren Carlson. Lauren is a SFA software analyst with Software Advice, a consultancy that does exactly what it says on the tin. Her latest article, “Salesforce’s Next Buy: Applications or Platform?”, takes a close look at Salesforce.com’s M&A activity over the past five years and what it suggests about the company’s direction. It’s a good read, and her conclusions are definitely worth considering. I’d be annoyed at her being so clever at so young an age, but (1) that would be patronizing of me and (2) we’re all about reflected glory here at Third Idea. This means (3) I also get to weigh in on her article with my own opinion.

Salesforce, as Carlson says, has maintained a steady focus on being a platform company for several years. But it has done so through relatively few acquisitions of “platform” entities—Sendia and Heroku are the only ones on her list, versus more than a dozen in the apps column. We need to ask what more Salesforce requires to build out its platform capability, and that’s where things get muddy for me.

As a cloud apps provider, Salesforce doesn’t need to have a clear line between what is an application and what is part of its underlying platform. Sitemasher and Jigsaw are both considered applications acquisitions, but they add to the whole package, and can be leveraged by any Salesforce user to some extent—clever developers and homebrewers can use these apps (among many others) in Salesforce’s development environment to create something unique. All it takes is imagination and some computer savvy.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff knows this, and is himself a creative visionary. Building the platform means adding apps, and building the apps means growing the platform. It’s hard to make a mistake when every move you make is a net positive. The way to answer the question Carlson poses in her article is not with one bucket term or the other, but by imagining what would add the most to what’s already under the Salesforce umbrella.

Salesforce’s Next Buy: Applications or Platform?

Final thoughts on Oracle Open World 2011

I got back from San Francisco a few days ago, after attending Oracle’s annual conference, and have been ruminating ever since. You can see a summary here (I wrote some news coverage for CRM magazine), but that’s journalism—there’s no place for my own opinions. What follows are the impressions that don’t belong in a neutral-toned article. Nothing horrible, but still inappropriate for news articles outside of the New York Post.

I should point out first, however, that Oracle paid for my flight and hotel accommodations, and treated me to a couple of meals to boot. The Oracle analyst relations people are top notch, and the company is smart enough to allow them to do their job without undue interference.

1. Oracle Is Too Big. This should not surprise anybody. I don’t even think it’s necessarily a problem—economies of scale are important for industries valued in the billions of dollars and touching every facet of life in the developed world. It becomes a problem when you have a diverse array of products to display, but only one opportunity to do so.

OOW11 was two conferences, one for hardware and one for software. Unfortunately, the two conferences were co-located and ran consecutively, so all the hardware people got their content first, and then all the software people got theirs. This was especially evident at Larry Ellison’s two keynotes. The first, on Sunday evening, was a drool session for server wonks, with nary a bone thrown to the applications crowd. The result? A number of walkouts, and scads of Twitter heckling. The second, on Wednesday afternoon, introduced enterprise social networking tools and the Oracle Public Cloud—a big deal for apps people, useless for server people. More walkouts, and probably some heckling as well.

This approach isn’t likely to change, either. Throwing two events would be more expensive than throwing one big one, and Oracle’s new Engineered Systems initiative will bind hardware and software even tighter. Should it succeed, there will be even less reason to separate the shows.

2. Larry Ellison Doesn’t Get People. He’s an extremely sharp fellow, this Larry Ellison. He’s passionate about Oracle technology, and he’s an absolute shark for business. But he hasn’t figured out these flesh creatures around him. Sunday’s widely-ridiculed talk about nuts and bolts—Oracle Exadata, Exalogic, and new Exalytics servers, and the new SPARC SuperCluster general purpose megaserver—was passionate enough to hold my interest for a while, despite being irrelevant to my immediate needs. It made a strong business case for the devices, and was really a love letter to the technology. No doubt about it: Oracle has some very sexy tech, and it runs the world.

But the whole thing was numbers. “Ten times faster than X! One-fifth the power consumption of Y!” Complete failure to engage people, to tell a story that sold these behemoths on anything but raw capability. Attendees of OOW10 said it was like he picked up right where he left off the previous year, with as little regard for the audience as he exhibited then.

By comparison, the Wednesday keynote showed us a different Ellison. His presentation, likely due in part to the poor reception from Sunday and the gaffe of cancelling Marc Benioff’s scheduled Tuesday address, was lively, pojnted, and full of humor and fire. I don’t know Larry Ellison personally, but I’ve observed him over the years and seen him speak on several occasions. This was the first time I felt he was human, and I liked it. He rose to the occasion, introducing a family of Cloud apps whose relevance to individual users as well as the enterprises that employ them was clear.

This second address wasn’t perfect. It was largely devoid of specifics and, coming on the last full day of the conference, left little opportunity to get more information, or even build up much buzz. Introducing the Oracle Social Network and Oracle Public Cloud earlier on would have given us industry analysts and reporters a chance to talk amongst ourselves, dig for details, and basically do Oracle’s PR work for it. Instead, we spent three days begging for scraps, and Oracle leaders like Anthony Lye and Steve Miranda were reduced to telling us “there’s an announcement coming on Wednesday, and we can’t talk about it.”

3. If You’re Going to Give Free Press to the Competition, Do It on Your Terms. If you heard a loud bang on Tuesday night, it was Oracle shooting itself in the foot. Marc Benioff, chairman of Salesforce.com, was scheduled to give an address at OOW11 on Wednesday, as he’d done for at least the previous two years. At the last moment, Oracle (Larry Ellison) cancelled the address—changed the time, actually, to Thursday 8 a.m., after many attendees would have already left. This, combined with Marc having a prior commitment in that time slot, effectively killed the session.

Perhaps inviting Benioff in the first place was a bad move. He’d been critical of Oracle’s strategy and products in years past, and there’s no reason to think this year would have been different. The social tech Oracle was introducing would put the two companies into more direct competition, so providing a podium could be a risk.

As bad as it might have been, blocking the address was a HORRIBLE move. Marc Benioff is a master of the public address. Every word out of his mouth sells Salesforce.com and the vision of Cloud computing. Ellison’s actions removed any constraint Benioff might have had to be a gracious guest; they cast Benioff in the role of injured party and Ellison in the role of jerk; and they cost him money by making him have to get a different venue at the last minute. In other words, shit just got real.

Marc was able to use his time to attack Oracle much more fully than he could as part of the Open World calendar, pitting Salesforce’s fully-formed and successful Cloud model against Oracle’s still-unannounced one. Larry’s rebuttal in his own Wednesday address was intriguing and pointed, but it didn’t have enough meat on its bones. For the first time in history, Oracle was fighting outside its weight class. It’s believed Larry set this debacle in motion on his own initiative, which means there’s nobody else to blame. Stupid move from a very smart man.

4. Follow Your Announcements With Facts. I am really looking forward to seeing OPC and OSN in action. Their introduction alone was worth my attendance, and 2012 is going to be all the more exciting for the social technology crowd because of it.

The old show biz mantra is to always leave the audience wanting more. OOW11 took it to an unreasonable extreme, but it left us wanting anything. I can tell you little more about Oracle’s social and Cloud initiatives than that they exist, and there are some early adopters. I can’t name the early adopters because of NDA. I can’t tell you what the apps do, because the demo was sparse and the people who could tell us more were gagged. I can’t even tell you when to expect to see them in the real world, because the company’s official line is that no release schedule has been set beyond “over the next several weeks.” This is not how a company generates buzz. It’s a great way to make us industry watchers very suspicious of what we’re being shown.

Time spent by top executives deflecting questions could have been spent arming us with the facts we need to get the message out, all by tweaking the announcement date a few days. Now we have to beg for follow-on briefings and demos when available, hoping that satisfying our curiosity will wash this bad taste from out mouths.

5. Please Invite Me Back Next Year. Oracle is an incredibly important company. Even when Open World is a misfire, it provides valuable information, access, and networking. My criticisms are honest, and I offer them in the hopes you’ll make OOW12 much better for us, and thus for yourselves. Prove me wrong about what I perceive as your mistakes. I look forward to it.