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Away Mission -- OracleWorld '06, San Francisco

By Howard Dyckoff

Oracle World: A Mega Conference. 40K attendees, 16K hotel rooms. Thousands of people crossing in 3 different directions at 4th and Howard Street, with the SFPD waving arms and blowing whistles frantically. A huge dining tent in the middle of the street. And very literally "tons of food" for after-sessions parties. Almost overwhelming.

This is Oracle's trophy event. It is a multiverse of user conferences from all of its assimilated purchased companies. It's J.D. Edwards World, the forum for the multitudes of PeopleSoft users, a DBA conference, a mini-Java conference, and now a major Linux conference.

Billed as the world's largest computer software conference with 42,000 attendees [but didn't COMDEX crack the 100 K mark back in its day?], it was a veritable city within the City of San Francisco. Streets were blocked off for Oracle events, and the conference sessions overflowed all three buildings of the Moscone Center and took over several local hotels for tracks such as those dedicated to CEOs and CIOs, and to the Life Sciences.

Partly because so many of the attendees were executives and business principals, the perks and party favors were often an order of magnitude better than the pizza and pretzels you would see at a strictly techie event. The OracleWorld conference bag, for example, was a well-tailored cross between an attache case and a laptop carrier, just perfect for my notebook and very smart, and included a folding umbrella for the unseasonably warm SF October weather. There were special events and separate receptions for developers, DBAs, business analysts, international guests, long-term J.D. Edwards users, and the now-annual Linux Install-a-thon where RHEL AS 4 was available to attendees willing to install it on their laptops. [This was the night before the Oracle Linux announcement.]

Category: Conferences
This is Oracle's trophy event: J.D. Edwards World, the forum for the multitudes of PeopleSoft users, a DBA conference, a mini-Java conference, and now a major Linux conference.

As for hardware, the star of the show wasn't one of the Oracle Clusters running on the Expo floor from Dell, HP, or IBM - it was the America's Cup yacht owned by Larry Ellison on display in the central corridor between Moscone Center's North and South Halls. Quite a lovely machine. [I could almost hear Larry Ellison saying, "I have bigger toys."] To show appreciation to their customers and conference attendees, Oracle and NetApp threw a finale party for over 20,000 attendees with 5 stages, mountains of food, an open tap, and headliners Joan Jett, Devo, and Sir Elton John. With an extended, anthemic version of "RocketMan", Sir John rocked the overflow crowd and kept everyone out very late.

Oracle Linux

The killer announcement at OracleWorld '06 was Oracle Linux, during Larry Ellison's keynote on the last day. As if digesting PeopleSoft and JD Edwards weren't enough, Oracle is now offering Linux operating system support in the form of an Oracle-tweaked version of Red Hat with the logos stripped out.

"Oracle Unbreakable Linux 2.0" provides enterprises with global support for Linux via Oracle's own support staff. This makes Oracle both a partner and a major competitor for Red Hat, whose stock plunged 24% the day following. Red Hat responded by sporting a new "Unfakeable Linux" banner on its Web site, and a Q/A page that notes that Oracle differences may constitute a fork in the Linux kernel [see below].

Red Hat has also just released its quarterly financials and - surprise! - they had a very good quarter. Profit and revenue were up approximately 45% each from the prior year and prior quarter respectively, so the universe of Linux sales and support may be big enough for two behemoths. It is true that their earnings per share dropped from $0.12 last year to $0.07 this time, but Red Hat is also expensing more to better position itself against both Oracle and arch-enemy Microsoft.

Prices for Oracle Linux Support start at $99 for patches and updates, but it's $399 for support, similar to RHEL ES 2-CPU support at $999; and Oracle's $1000 for multi CPU-support is similar to RHEL multi-CPU support, which is now $2500 per year.

To gild the lily a bit more, until January 31, 2007, it will be 50% off these low Oracle Linux support prices. This is available to everyone, even non-Oracle customers. Oracle customers can get free Premier support for Linux by using their existing CSI numbers to log Linux issues via MetaLink.

For years, Oracle has fixed P1 bugs for its Linux customers. Oracle also offered its Cluster File System, as part of the Linux kernel. This has helped make Oracle customers comfortable with Linux.

Yahoo! Vice-President of Engineering Laurie Mann joined Ellison on the keynote stage, and described Yahoo's infrastructure of 150,000 servers. Mann said they had scores of database appliances running Oracle on Linux, that they were supported internally, and that experience meant support of these configurations was better from Oracle than Red Hat. He noted that Oracle was providing free downloadable binaries in ISO images.

Oracle will publish their bug fixes immediately. It will frequently synch its distro with Red Hat, but also maintain the Oracle fixes going forward. Oracle will offer patches for older versions of Red Hat, something that Red Hat does not do consistently. Oracle will also offer legal indemnity from intellectual property actions like those launched by SCO.

Currently, Red Hat provides bug fixes for only the latest version of its software. This often requires customers to upgrade to a new version of the Linux software to get a bug fixed. Oracle's new Unbreakable Linux program will provide bug fixes to future, current, and back releases of Linux. In other words, Oracle will provide the same level of enterprise support for Linux as is available for other operating systems.

"We believe that better support and lower support prices will speed the adoption of Linux, and we are working closely with our partners to make that happen," said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. "Intel is a development partner. Dell and HP are resellers and support partners. Many others are signed up to help us move Linux up to mission critical status in the data center."

"The goal here is to make all versions of Linux better." said Ellison from the stage. "The better Linux gets, the better it is for us..." And later, "this is Capitalism, we're competing... we are offering a better product at a lower price." The bottom line for the Linux community, according to Ellison, "... is about increasing the status of Linux," and moving it deeper into the enterprise.

Ellison's Linux announcement is available.

Oracle Linux on MP3 highlights are, as well.

Red Hat's Q/A on Oracle's initiative is likewise available.

OracleWorld Keynotes, which were Net-broadcast in real time, are online, too.

Besides announcing its Oracle Linux offerings and half-price charter offer, Oracle also announced it was joining the FSG [Free Standards Group], which develops and maintains the LSB, the Linux Standard Base, to which all distros need certification. This seems to show that Oracle is indeed serious and also supportive of the larger Linux community. Said FSG's Executive Director, Jim Zemlin:

"As the largest enterprise software company, Oracle is one of the most influential and important Linux software vendors. By joining the FSG, they send a clear message that they support open standards. Their joining the FSG is a watershed moment for the Linux platform, showing that all major Linux software vendors have joined together to support the LSB and keep Linux from fragmenting. Their participation in our workgroup will help us meet the most pressing needs for Linux users and developers."

Oracle joined the FSG as a platinum member.

In addition to the usual partnering announcements and posturing about growth and market share, there were some interesting and newsworthy items. Michael Dell, in person, announced 2 new server platforms in a quick 1-2 shuffle with AMD and Intel. First out of the block was Dell's new Opteron server with 4 AMD "F" sockets. That means a future-ready server, as current dual-core Opterons can be easily replaced by forthcoming 4-core Opteron chips in early 2007. Then, just minutes latter, Dell announced the dual socketed, 1U-high SC1435, which is designed for distributed serving environments like Web farms and high-performance computing clusters. Dell's PowerEdge SC1435 will come with Intel 5300 quad-core CPU and 4 sockets, making it the least expensive production 8-way server.

Category: Linux business
"[T]his is Capitalism, we're competing... we are offering a better product at a lower price."
-- Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO, Oracle Corporation

Oracle keynote speakers described their Open Source initiatives, which include 3 Eclipse projects [BPEL, JSF, JPA] plus ongoing collaborations and support for Linux. [There had been rumors about an Oracle-Ubuntu effort; none were verified.] They also cited work on Zend Core for PHP. Mike Olson, former CEO of Sleepycat Systems, known for the famous Berkeley DB embedded database [now owned by Oracle] spoke about the ubiquity of Berkeley DB with 200 million open source installations, and cited its dual license provisions, which allow for free redistribution within open source applications. There were separate technical presentations on Berkeley DB and its integration with Oracle products.

Session Files

The presentations are available to members of the OTN [Oracle Technology Network, a free membership]. There is also a default ID and password offered when one tries to access the content - I'm providing that below. With this ID, about half of the presentations are available for download. It is probable, however, that many presenters did not post their materials:


Username: cboracle
Password: oraclec6

Yahoo gave a presentation on its use of Berkeley DB.

Dell presented on its Linux mega-grid.

Task-oriented, Contextual, Multi-Channel Interactions for Information Workers?

With significant fanfare, Oracle rolled out its WebCenter Suite as an interactive platform that applies Web 2.0 practices to enterprise content management and "business intelligence". It delivers enterprise search, structured and unstructured data access, business process oversight, and communication & collaboration services. It uses Java JSF and AJAX, supports "Enterprise Mashups", can synchronize information portlets and workflows, has instant messaging, has VoIP, discussion forums, and supports Wiki services and blogs - but the main selling point is that WebCenter "addresses the inefficiencies that force users to manually switch between tasks. Oracle WebCenter Suite attempts to fuse Web-based portals, enterprise applications, and AJAX technologies to enable context-sensitive work processes."

Of course, this is an enterprise-centric, everything-in-one-place, one-ring-to-rule-them-all approach. There are open source projects that offer pieces of a total solution, but here, in theory at least, everything is integrated, and there is only one vendor needed for technical support. All this for a price. Oracle WebCenter Suite is licensed as an option on top of Oracle Application Server Enterprise Edition at a cost of $50,000 per CPU. That's more than spare change. [I wonder how they will license the coming quad-core CPUs?]

Here are more details from the WebCenter Suite Press Release:


How does OracleWorld stack up? The reach and breadth of the Oracle product line means there are sessions for literally everyone, suit or techie.

[ While "suits" and "techies" make for amusing Dilbert-esque humor, the reality is that buying into this polarization closes off the best opportunities for advancement in today's business world. These days, one of the most desirable and best-paid categories of employee in the field is a technical manager - someone who knows both the technical and the management side of the business. -- Ben ]

The flip side of that is having many competing sessions of varying technical quality -- it's hard to set an agenda and even harder to keep to it, as sessions disappoint occasionally. Sometimes excellent sessions on similar topics appear at the same time on different tracks [and that might mean the sessions are in different buildings]. This is true of all large conferences, but, since OracleWorld is one of the largest computer conferences, this does happen a lot.

There are so many sessions, in fact, that getting to the Expo floor is difficult to squeeze into the agenda. Because of the hundreds of sessions available, I would recommend a team approach, with alternating days at the Expo.

The OracleWorld Expo Pass, which included entry to one conference session, also was a great deal. Free Expo Pass coupons appeared in the Business section of the SF Chronicle, the Sunday before OracleWorld. So, if your company is a little tight for cash, consider getting Expo passes for half of your team, and have them switch off on different days and hours.

Here are the aggregate ratings [0-10]:

Venue: 8
It's busting out of the Moscone Center, though.
Keynotes: 6
The music is a little loud, but you did get to see CEOs from AMD, Cisco, HP, Intel, and Sun. And stylish Larry!
Food: 8
Plenty, and with veggie and kosher options, special meals if needed. Bravo!
Conference Bag: 9
Not a backpack, but very useful. Included a folding umbrella and a leather-covered journal for notes.
Session Quality: 6
There were gems, but it was hard finding them, and also hard to get from one building to another. Not having presentations viewable on CD or online before the conference is a slight demerit.
Overall rating: 7.4
[Your mileage may vary]

Talkback: Discuss this article with The Answer Gang

Bio picture Howard Dyckoff is a long term IT professional with primary experience at Fortune 100 and 200 firms. Before his IT career, he worked for Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine and before that used to edit SkyCom, a newsletter for astronomers and rocketeers. He hails from the Republic of Brooklyn [and Polytechnic Institute] and now, after several trips to Himalayan mountain tops, resides in the SF Bay Area with a large book collection and several pet rocks.

Copyright © 2007, Howard Dyckoff. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 134 of Linux Gazette, January 2007

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