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10/8/2012
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Oracle's Great Stack Attack

If Larry Ellison and his team delivered one message to customers during Oracle Open World it was this: We complete you.

By all accounts, last week's Oracle Open World was more of a traditional user conference, more workman-like, more technology perspiration than inspiration, and about as glitzy azzzzzzzzz.

Oh, pardon me.

Surely it was a telling sign when the standing-room-only crowd that had given up its Sunday night to hear Oracle CEO Larry Ellison kick off festivities with his usual barrage of roundhouse punches had to wait through an hour-long commercial message from Fujitsu, the main Oracle Open World sponsor. And this was the part of Fujitsu that talks about server architecture.

On Monday morning (or it could have still been Sunday night), Oracle database geek-in-chief, Andy Mendelsohn, during an explanation of the company's newly announced 12c database, with its virtualized, containerized architecture, handed off to various demonstrators, who showed heat mapzzzzzzzzzz.

Oops. Sorry.

And then abruptly Mendelsohn said he had a special guest: out came bewildered former NBA great Jerry West. His appearance was as ill-timed as it was ill-fitting, and just when it looked like West might do well to show us a fast SQL query or two, or maybe some sharding, he talked instead about the value of teamwork and having dreams. Did he mean the dream of being a database administrator? Of simplifying database management? He didn't say.

And then back to the demozzzzzzzzzz.

Oh, wow. Apologies.

These fits of tech spec outburst were frequently punctuated with comic relief from Ellison, who managed to throw big punches at partners like EMC. Comparing the new Exadata X3 to EMC's VMax, Ellison said that EMC's product maxes out how fast it can move data, whereas Oracle's technology can "just go and go and go, like the Energizer bunny."

On Tuesday morning (or, heck, maybe it was still Sunday night), EMC CEO Joe Tucci sarcastically thanked Oracle for the warm welcome, then reminded the audience of EMC's 17-year partnership with Oracle, and their joint 70,000 customers.

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While Oracle may have lacked flavor or tact, the message from the company's top brass was succinct and clear: Oracle wants to own the entire technology stack (the so-called "Red Stack"), from the infrastructure to the operating system to the database to the middleware to the applications. It wants to dominate at each layer of the stack, and it wants to run it all for you, on premises, in the cloud, in a private cloud, or in combination.

[For more, see InformationWeek's Charles Babcock's expert analysis of what Oracle's cloud strategy actually means. ]

Oracle believes it has all of the pieces to deliver. Ellison, speaking with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo, said the company is no longer focused on acquisitions, that it can pretty much do it all. And that's pretty much all you need to know.

If Ellison and his team delivered one message to customers during Oracle Open World it was this: We complete you.

Plenty of people have picked apart the pieces--that Fusion isn't quite ready, that integration challenges await, that the Red Stack will require a big green stack-- and the burden will rest with Oracle to prove it has the answers. But if nothing else, Oracle unflinchingly stated its ambition.

In arriving here, Oracle had to transform itself. While its database is still the core of its business, and, for now, its main customer leverage point, the company recently announced it would no longer report the performance of its database business. That may be because the nature of that business (and its pricing) is about to change (today Oracle charges by CPU; that changes in a virtualized environment), or because Oracle wants to shift the conversation to shinier objects, like cloud, human capital management, the social enterprise, and big data.

This transformation is remarkable if only because the vision hinges on embracing the very notions Oracle has summarily rejected in the past.

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