Oracle combats high-priced image

The president and CEO of Oracle Corp. cares about fashion, from hemlines to dot-coms, but he says that doesn’t mean his products cost a lot.

Larry Ellison told that to some of the 40,000 attendees at this year’s Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco last month. Despite a recent downturn in conference attendance, OpenWorld, now in its sixth year, hosted its largest group to date.

“The computer business is the fashion business,” Ellison said. “You (have to) see a fashion like dot-com or B2B when it’s coming. You have to be able to move those hemlines up and down as the fashion changes.”

In addition to talking fashion, Ellison came to the stage for his keynote, slinging insults at competitors IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp., spending almost as much time taunting them as touting his own new offerings.

Ellison also attempted to combat Oracle’s reputation as a high-priced suite of services.

“Everyone assumes that because we are unbreakable, that we will charge a premium price,” he said. “We are accused of having high prices, but we are actually cheaper. It’s not just the cost of software (you have to look at), it’s the cost of the labour, networks and hardware.”

Saying that he saw Web service as the newest bit of “computer industry lunacy,” he still pointed out that Oracle has the only suite of applications based on Web services.

“We are so fashionable,” he said. “But . . . this is not the solution. Application integration has nothing to do with Web services. Application integration has to do with semantic differences of the underlying databases of two different applications.”

Ellison said that his “Unbreakable” campaign garnered some flack from some of his advisors.

“‘We are going to get creamed,’ they said,” Ellison recalled, adding that there have been 10 times more attacks since the campaign launch. “(They thought) everyone from Russia to Washington was going to try to break into our site.”

Following his keynote, Ellison fielded questions ranging from his thoughts on a national identification card – which he says he doesn’t support – to his thoughts on the recession, which he believes will last around 18 months. He also quashed questions concerning possible successors, telling one persistent inquirer to just “write whatever you want.”

“Our business has stabilized,” he said in response to how Oracle has fared during the downturn. “That means we are not doing worse. But, I have said that we are going to have a bad quarter, but a bad quarter, that means we are going to make US$1 billion.”

Ellison was joined by other Oracle keynotes including Jeff Henley, chief financial officer at Oracle, who painted a rosy picture of Oracle’s recent finances.

A study released in late November by Morgan Stanley shows that, after a long struggle with instability problems and bugs in the 11i applications suite, Oracle has corrected the problems and refocused on applications. That refocus was evident at OpenWorld, where applications servers and database enhancements – particularly 9i Real Application Clusters – dominated keynotes and seminars.

Executives from Toronto-based enterprise application integration specialist DataMirror were pleased that the conference focused so much on 9i, saying that attention for the 9i increases the attention on DataMirror’s iReflect, which mirrors Oracle database transactions from a primary system to a recovery system in real-time.

Ron Patel, territory accounts manager and Brian Butler, product marketing manager, said they came to San Francisco to show the majority of their customers in America what they call the “highest availability product for 9i.”

Patel explained that iReflect is geographically dispersed so that if there is a failure in one area, users will switch over in an almost seamless manner. He added that iReflect is the lower cost option. “We work on the database level and we are software based, so we don’t want to incur major hardware expenses with our software,” he said. “We are going to use your servers and find solutions without spending a lot of money.”

Likening their customer relationship to that of a plumber, Butler said many of the customers he spoke with at OpenWorld were barely aware that they were using DataMirror products.

James Governor, IT advisor for Illuminata in London said he sees a line of seemingly endless expansion for Oracle from this point on.

“If you are Oracle, you see the world quite clearly,” he said. “You look forward five years and you say that you only see three vendors. There will be IBM, SAP and Oracle. Oh, and Microsoft. That is what Ellison is working towards.”

That means, in terms of planning, there is going to be continuous building, he said, pointing to key elements of OpenWorld like the application servers. Oracle is going for that market because it can never get the growth it wants with just databases, Governor added.

“They want to own everything,” he said. “Ellison is no shrinking violet.”

Along with promoting the family of Oracle 9i products, Oracle announced the expansion of its certification program and online training services to include two new options; the Oracle Certified Master and Oracle Certified Associate.

This September, Framingham, Mass.-based IDC reported that the fastest-growing certification areas were for database professionals and network engineers. That, along with research showing that professionals are finding it difficult to hire qualified Oracle certified professionals, prompted Oracle to meet the market demand.