Oracle OpenWorld 2010: Larry, Mark and Lots of Questions

This year's OpenWorld confab will feature Oracle's Mark Hurd -- and plenty of customer questions. Will Oracle have good answers or just the usual verbal skewers?

Just a couple months ago, Oracle's 2010 edition of OpenWorld—its annual tech gathering kicking off Sept. 19 in San Francisco—might have been a tad lacking in the "intrigue" department.

Sure, there'd be scores of Oracle product announcements on Exadata database machines, news for the Sun-Java development crowd, and more information on the long-awaited Fusion Applications Suite.

And of course, there's always CEO Larry Ellison's quotable excoriations of the competition, as well as a bevy of customer and partner testimonials with those semi-contrived awards ceremonies.

All pretty much what one would expect.

Then came the Oracle hire 'hurd' 'round the world on Sept. 6th. Oracle proudly announced that former HP CEO Mark Hurd was joining Oracle as co-CEO—and, as almost a footnote, that former co-CEO Charles Phillips was "retiring."

Talk of lawsuits ensued. Tempers flared publicly. And all of those once rock-solid partnerships between Oracle and HP—a DIAMOND sponsor of the OpenWorld, no less—just got a whole heck of a lot more interesting to consider.

The Main Event will be Ann Livermore's keynote address on Sunday. The EVP of HP's enterprise business is scheduled to talk about this: "Leverage IT to Create Business Advantage from Your Datacenter to the Cloud." Will she venture anywhere near how the Hurd situation has impacted the HP-Oracle relationship going forward? Will she even mention the word "Hurd"? It's sure to be great theater.

Hurd is scheduled to offer his keynote the day after Livermore's, which nixes any opportunity for a chance encounter back stage between ex-colleagues Hurd and Livermore. (That meeting would be more awkward than a Jennifer Aniston-Angelina Jolie run-in backstage at the Oscars.)

Now that Oracle is attempting to be the next-generation IBM, it'll be fascinating to watch who else Ellison & Co. targets as top competitors. The potential list is vast, spanning a couple of different industry segments: IBM is going on the offensive already, and HP will likely be in Oracle's cross-hairs. Then there's SAP, in the enterprise software space, which will surely get some of Oracle's ire; perhaps some shots at Teradata are in order; and finally there's Salesforce.com and the brood of cloud vendors nipping at Oracle's heels.

How Oracle executives position the company and what technology roadmaps they offer customers will be key. In other words, they need to prove to customers why "Software. Hardware. Complete." is a sound strategy—and for good reasons other than "just because Oracle says so." (Read Josh Greenbaum's post "Is Oracle An Apps Company that Sells Hardware, or a Hardware Company that Dabbles in Apps?" for more.)

In the applications space, one has to look no further than SAP's consistent and clear messaging at Sapphire 2010 to see just how valuable that can be.

All of its customers know Oracle is going to acquire more vendors to grow its product portfolios and customers bases. Which ones they will purchase is pure speculation right now. Customers also know that Hurd has arrived—but how will his presence affect R&D, innovation and partnerships going forward?

Those Oracle customers traveling to OpenWorld 2010 are looking to go inside Oracle's innerworkings, prod execs on the strategic direction and ask some important questions. But will Oracle have the answers customers want to hear?

Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at twailgum@cio.com.

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