Eye on Oracle

December 27, 2012  4:13 PM

What Larry Ellison wants in 2013

Lena Weiner Lena Weiner Profile: Lena Weiner

Once again, Hanukkah and Christmas have come and gone, and with them, much of the 2012 gift-giving season, although it should be noted that Kwanzaa began yesterday and won’t be over until January 1, and some folks still enjoy the now-obscure tradition of giving gifts on New Year’s.

I’ve always wondered what the holidays are like in the households of the super-rich. In my family, Chrismukkuh has always been a holiday where people gave you stuff you needed but couldn’t afford to buy for yourself; in my husband’s family, the holiday season is a time to give people nice things they’ve always wanted but either haven’t got around to buying yet or would just never buy for themselves. What do you buy for a member of the 1% who already has everything? What are the holidays like in the Ellison household? What do you buy a guy who even owns his own island? As a wise man once said, the rich are different, and nowhere is that more obvious than in upscale gift giving catalogues. Who the heck would buy a $100,000 hen house for their yard? I guess when giving something to a guy or gal who’s got everything, you just have to give them something so outrageous that even they would balk at buying it for themselves.

Here are a few late-ish gift ideas for anyone who wanted to get Larry Ellison something but wasn’t sure what:

1-    Golden shoelaces—because, why not?
2-    A hidden water pool—just using the thing would make anyone feel like a Bond villain!
3-    While I’m sure he’s been there, I’d be willing to bet Larry wouldn’t turn his nose up at dinner for two at Per Se in New York

Sadly, when it comes to gift-giving, we’re limited by what we can buy, and I only partly mean that in terms of financial limitations. Here are a few things that Larry would much appreciate that his money just can’t buy:

1-    For a government that is pro-business and likes foreign investment to gain control of Egypt’s economy, where Oracle recently invested, as well as in other developing markets
2-    For the REAL-ID act, which Ellison has long been a huge supporter of, to begin being enforced—and to have Oracle software used in the new national identification database
3-    For nice weather in Lanai in 2013, preferably with minimal seismic activity
4-    Minimal “oops” moments for Oracle in 2013, for Oracle to win all of their court cases, and as few faux pas as possible (except when Larry intentionally makes a “faux pas” though, of course!)

And, if all of the above fails, just get the guy a liger. Everyone loves a liger!

December 20, 2012  6:22 PM

Why NoSQL, why now?

Lena Weiner Lena Weiner Profile: Lena Weiner

On Monday, Oracle announced the release of the next generation of its NoSQL database, delivering multiple upgrades users have been buzzing about since 1.0 came out. New functionalities include auto-rebalancing, improved manageability and an improved application programming interface. The auto-rebalancing feature promises improved managing of computing and storage capacity despite fluctuation in users, processing demands or throughput of data. Oracle also says they’ve added a new Web-based management console that will give admins access to tools for deploying and monitoring their database.

But why NoSQL, why now?

Truthfully, NoSQL is the ideal database tool for a dismal economy or company that wants to pinch pennies in any market. Relational databases require lots of maintenance, usually provided by highly trained DBAs who specialize in design, implementation and ongoing tuning of databases. On the other hand, NoSQL databases are simply designed to require less care and feeding, featuring automatic repair, data distribution and lower administration and tuning requirements. The holy grail of a NoSQL database shop is to skip having an admin altogether, but most folks will admit we’re not quite there yet in reality. However, some companies might be able to employ fewer DBAs as a result of switching to NoSQL. This would be bad news for hopeful DBAs, but IT directors and managers might see it as good news for their 2013 budgets.

So, while tech spending seems to be up for now, it seems Oracle is hoping for the best while preparing for the worst, and offering products for both fat and lean times. In our uncertain market, I guess I can’t say I blame them.

December 18, 2012  9:41 PM

Oracle revenue up 3%, but hardware revenue continues slide

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

Oracle just released its quarterly financial statement showing that revenue was up 3% this past quarter, with software revenue up 17% and support revenue and license updates up 7%.

But hardware products and support continued their revenue decline. They brought in $1.3 billion, down 16% since the same fiscal quarter last year, according to Oracle’s filing today with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Profit on the hardware side was down from $745 million to $727 million since last quarter, and down from $849 million in the same quarter last year.

In a statement, CEO Larry Ellison said that engineered systems like Exadata and the SPARC Supercluster will “drive growth in our hardware business” by the end of Oracle’s fiscal year, which is mid-2013. It’s a statement he has repeated since this summer.

Ellison and other execs will be holding a conference call on the earnings later today.

December 13, 2012  8:25 PM

How (un)secure is MySQL, anyway?

Lena Weiner Lena Weiner Profile: Lena Weiner

One of the reasons why IT pros choose big-name brand products from companies like Oracle is the security they assume comes with them. This isn’t an in-house product whipped up by your college kid intern while he was simultaneously trying to write some term paper or something designed by a fly-by-night operation out of some guy’s garage. If it comes from a large company like Oracle, there’s a certain reassurance that the product has been tested and tinkered with by people who know what they’re doing. Right?

Or not.

The vulnerabilities in MySQL exposed recently could leave a poorly configured server running MySQL vulnerable to anything from a brute force attack to a DoS attack to leaving a system wide-open for a hacker to stroll right in and make themselves at home. Not good news.  The average time between when a hacker discovers and begins exploiting vulnerabilities and when developers or security pros learn about them is ten months, but it’s not uncommon for the exploitation to last years. How long have hackers actually known of MySQL’s vulnerabilities? As an Oracle pro, should you be concerned?

Let’s not panic. There’s no single huge vulnerability here to be exploited- just multiple vulnerabilities that all became apparent at once. Also, most of the vulnerabilities manifest themselves through sloppy configuration. If you have strong passwords, firewalls and access control lists, it’s fairly unlikely your organization will run into trouble (BUT! If you have any doubt as to the security of your configuration, please please please go look into that!).

Some users of forked versions of MySQL have said they’ve known about these issues for about a decade. So, here’s an ethics question that might bring you back to your undergraduate philosophy classes– who is responsible for catching vulnerabilities? Technically, this debacle could probably be blamed on Monty Widenius, the founder of MySQL. Shouldn’t he have caught these issues when he created MySQL? Even if he didn’t, should Sun have caught them after they bought MySQL from Monty?  Or was this Oracle’s responsibility, having bought Sun and the rights to all their products? If users of forked versions have known about these vulnerabilities for so long, why have none of the big guys caught them? Basically, are companies ethically responsible to at least try to beat the hackers at finding potential vulnerabilities? Or am I being too hard on everyone here?

December 5, 2012  7:49 PM

Prediction for 2013: SMBs finally ascend to the cloud

Lena Weiner Lena Weiner Profile: Lena Weiner

It’s not too early for me to start making predictions for the New Year, is it? I’ve got one.

It’s becoming hard to imagine life without cloud computing in some form or another. You likely use Salesforce, LotusLive, Taleo or RightNow for work. Chances are you have a Gmail account. Maybe you use a nifty app like Mint.com to track your finances. It’s quite possible that the music at the last party you went to was streamed through Pandora, and I’m willing to wager the party pics are available for everyone to see on Facebook.

In both home life and the corporate world, cloud computing is swiftly becoming an established fact of life. The only area where cloud adoption is lagging a bit is with small-and-medium-sized businesses (SMBs). And Oracle is looking to change that.

Historically, Oracle has been the database provider of the 1%. But Oracle’s been branching out. Now, it’s not just databases anymore. Software, hardware, you name it, Oracle’s in it. Heck, I’m half expecting Oracle to get into underwear next. As I reported last week, Oracle has been trying hard to get into markets it previously hadn’t tapped, as well as trying to ditch their big-companies only image. Being the bringer of the cloud to SMBs is the perfect way to do this.

Oracle is offering integrated solutions around its x86 and SPARC servers which bundle storage, server, networking, databases and virtualization into one solution. This sort of cost-effective bundling will appeal to price-conscious SMBs. While Oracle’s intentions are to make money, not be nice to the SMB guy, this move could easily be beneficial for all involved, making commodities like cloud storage, BI apps and other helpful cloud-based programs.

Oracle’s main competitors in this field are Salesforce, SAP, Google, Microsoft and, of course, various smaller players that have been taking advantage of the limitations SMBs face like DropBox, Egnyte, LogMeIn and Quickbase, among many others. I’ll bet the box of See’s Chocolates my mom is sending me for Chrismukkah this year that we’ll see Oracle getting much more aggressive on selling the cloud to smaller businesses this next year, in addition to churning out an original cloud product or two and, as Oracle is known to do, buying up a bunch of hip cloud startups.

November 28, 2012  9:57 PM

Oracle aims to overtake SAP’s control of India’s business application market

Lena Weiner Lena Weiner Profile: Lena Weiner

Corporate battlegrounds take all kinds of forms. Something we rarely think about in the developed world, though, is the battle for market share in developing countries. China and India are of particular interest—both have strong economies and are frequently accused of stealing business from developed countries through outsourcing and taking advantage of cheap labor sources.

Oracle has been targeting Indian companies as the new object of their corporate affections.  With a highly educated workforce that’s relatively fluent in English and a huge population of eager workers willing to work for a fraction of what a North American or European employee would accept (and I’m not kidding when I say “huge population”- we’re talking 1,241,491,960 people), India can be considered a tech entrepreneur’s dream. Many multi-national tech firms, including Microsoft, IBM and Oracle have offices in India, and there are many successful tech firms with headquarters in India, like Wipro, Infosys and Mahindra Satyam. Other than the IT and business process outsourcing industries, India also holds a competitive place in many other sectors, including textiles, chemicals, food processing, steel, mining and pharmaceuticals.

For a company like Oracle, the question generated by this situation is not “how will this benefit the people of India?” nor “will this hurt the American economy?” The question that comes to mind is, “how do we profit from this?”

Currently, Oracle’s rival SAP controls much of the Indian market. Oracle needs to figure out how to wrestle that away from them. The old logic that SAP is good for ERP, Oracle for databases and everything else is a tossup has died a bit harder in India than in other countries. A strong advertising campaign is the first step- A current Oracle ad in India proclaims that “Oracle surrounds SAP,” noting that 96% of SAP customers also run Oracle applications.

Will Oracle be successful in its Indian adventure? Can Larry Ellison prevail where even Alexander the Great failed—the total domination of the Indian subcontinent? Maybe, although the jury is still out. Oracle’s areas of expertise line up almost perfectly with India’s strongest industries. My advice to SAP – If you want to hang on to the Indian market, you need to remain competitive in the realms of CRM, hardware and pharmaceutical software. If you can’t do that, you’re a goner.

November 14, 2012  7:43 PM

Did anyone really ‘like’ Oracle Social?

Lena Weiner Lena Weiner Profile: Lena Weiner

One morning this week, countless people woke up to find that they now “like” Oracle Social on Facebook, with no memory of actively “liking” it. If it were just for a couple hundred likes, maybe it would be understandable, but Oracle Social now has 1,015,209 likes. How did this happen?

Social networks can sometimes feel like middle school all over again. They bring me right back to the days when I still hadn’t figured out that purple leggings absolutely did not match a bright orange sweater and I was rocking a bright red ‘fro that my $11.00-a-cut chain hairstylist had promised would be a “nineteen-twenties inspired bob.”

Apparently, some folks at Oracle were having similar thoughts on the nature of social networking and wanting to fit in. Oracle wants to look cool, especially when it comes to social media. Other tech companies manage to pull it off: Apple is a veritable hipster, everyone wants to be Mark Zuckerberg’s friend on Facebook and just seeing Amazon’s smiley-face box waiting by your door is enough to brighten anyone’s day. But like so many of us former (and current) nerds in the IT world, Oracle just can’t quite shake its corporate, dorky image.

So how does Oracle, the epitome of a corporate, unlovable, unpersonable company, get into social media? Just as I dreamed of buying cooler friends when I was sitting alone in the cafeteria, Oracle bought multiple “cool” start-ups that are good at social media. But they all get rebranded as “Oracle” after being bought, instantly obliterating some of that cool. What’s a social climbing company that just wants to be loved to do?

Start a Facebook page, for starters. Always the first step toward popularity, right? Well, not if no one wants to “like” you or friend you. But Oracle Social doesn’t seem to have that problem. They have 1,015,209 likes. To put this in perspective, Oracle Corporation itself has 217,815 likes; the Amazon Kindle (a very beloved product) has 2,777,411 likes; the iPhone has 1,788,946 likes. This is the equivalent of the total nerd no one liked walking into a new school one day and being asked to sit at the cool table and invited to a party at the class president’s house that weekend.

How did Oracle pull it off? Some have speculated that Oracle paid Facebook for likes or to start a fanbase for them, but I’m pretty sure I figured out what happened here. While perusing Oracle Social’s Facebook page, I noticed that a college friend of mine, a social media maven from the Midwest, “liked” Oracle Social. I gave her a call.

Me: Hey Ericka (not her real name), I noticed you liked Oracle Social. Quick question, did you actually like them like them?

Ericka: Wha… what’s Oracle? Oh yeah. Them. No. No I didn’t.

Me: Yeah, that’s what I thought. Listen, have you liked Involver or Virtue lately?

Ericka: Oh yeah. I totally did like Involver!

I’ll spare you all the next twenty minutes of college-friend gossip about acquaintances having babies and who hasn’t changed their hairstyle since 2002, but to sum things up, it seems Oracle got at least some of those million plus members by getting people to “like” cooler brands, then consolidating it into one, considerably less cool, brand.

Also, I noticed the following on Oracle Social’s timeline:

If you have multiple Facebook Pages with similar content targeting the same audience, it’s a good idea to merge. But take it from us, there a few things you’ll want to remember if you merge to stay out of trouble.

Shortly thereafter, Oracle admitted that this is exactly what they were doing. So, mystery solved. We can all place bets on which Oracle exec has such a wounded inner child that they’re willing to sign off on something this shady. Also still up for discussion is whether or not this is an appropriate use of their subsidiaries’ brands. What do you guys think?

November 7, 2012  11:45 PM

Four more years: What it means for Oracle and the Silicon Valley

Lena Weiner Lena Weiner Profile: Lena Weiner

If you’re a news and politics junkie like me, you probably stumbled into work more than a bit groggy this morning, possibly also a tad hung over, either because you celebrated President Obama’s re-election or needed a few gulps of something strong to take the edge off of watching the guy you thought would make a great (or, at the very least, slightly better) leader get hosed by voters. Personally, I stayed up until a bit past midnight waiting on both victory and concession speeches before deciding I needed sleep more than I needed to see history happen in real time.

Now that Obama’s re-election is official, I think it’s important to take a look at who got him there — and who didn’t. An interesting trend that has been remarked upon by several different websites, analysts and pundits has been Silicon Valley’s growing shift to the left. This is in stark contrast to other fields of business, which tend to favor the right. What caused this liberalism among Silicon Valley techies? Perhaps the biggest motivator might be Obama’s stance on immigration reform, as the Valley draws many of the most talented programmers and developers from all over the world. Stricter immigration laws could hurt the ability of Silicon Valley companies to recruit talent or employ the people they want. Education, stem cell research and copyright laws are other hot topics for Silicon Valley residents and businesses.

Of course, there are variations. The Valley’s strong libertarian streak has been noted as well. A proud member of the 1% and proponent of a national ID card program, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison donated $5,000 to Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign, as well as to the senatorial campaign of now-defeated GOP incumbent Scott Brown in Massachusetts. His employees, however, did not follow his example — Oracle workers gave a combined $334,940 to Obama’s campaign, while they donated only $63,478 (including Larry’s donation) to Romney.

How will the results of the election affect Silicon Valley, the tech industry and business in America? The only predictions I’m willing to make are a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans and possible patent reform for the tech industry — neither of which are likely to put Larry Ellison in a great mood.

November 1, 2012  2:21 PM

Sparc turns 25

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

A quarter-century ago, Sun Microsystems developed and introduced the Sparc chip. This week the Computer History Museum plans to celebrate that fact.

Sparc stands for Scalable Processor Architecture, and was a RISC-based chip introduced by Sun for its own servers and workstations. The Sparc chip was designed to replace – and be more robust, than the Motorola chips that were previously in Sun servers. The chip has undergone several revisions over the years, with several name changes: HyperSparc, SuperSparc, TurboSparc, UltraSparc, and on and on. The main ones now are the Sparc Tx, developed by Sun successor Oracle, and the Sparc64 chip designed by Fujitsu.

Perhaps one of the most famous iterations of Sparc was the one that got canceled. Codenamed “Rock,” the chip went through multiple delays under the purview of Sun Microsystems, and then was canceled by Oracle when Oracle bought Sun. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison on why he canceled the Rock project:

This processor had two incredible virtues: It was incredibly slow and it consumed vast amounts of energy. It was so hot that they had to put about 12 inches of cooling fans on top of it to cool the processor. It was just madness to continue that project.

The Computer History Museum is holding an expert panel event about the 25th anniversary of Sparc on Nov. 1 from 11am to 1pm Pacific. The event, dubbed “SPARC at 25: Past Present, and Future,” will be at the museum’s campus in Mountain View, Calif. Speakers will include two co-founders of Sun Microsystems, Bill Joy and Andy Bechtolsheim, Oracle President Mark Hurd, and others.


October 3, 2012  8:57 PM

Oracle goes social

Lena Weiner Lena Weiner Profile: Lena Weiner

SAN FRANCISCO – This is my first OpenWorld. So far, I have to say that I can’t complain. The Moscone Convention Center is about as state-of-the-art as convention centers come; all of Oracle’s representatives and employees have been friendly enough to work with and the usually frigid city of San Francisco even turned up the heat just for us, leading me to wonder if Larry Ellison recently acquired the weather along with all those cloud service providers Oracle purchased.

Oracle’s reasons for buying various cloud and social media companies seem to be coming into focus. I’ve learned over the last few days that there’s more to social media than cruising Facebook to see which of your high school friends is aging badly. Social media can mean helping an HR department figure out which of their employees have certain talents outside of the job they currently hold so they can simply promote someone internally rather than conduct an external candidate search. Social media can be a new way for dissatisfied customers to bring their grievances to light, perhaps via a rant on Facebook or Twitter (which, if your company is effectively monitoring, you can see and address), by posting on a reviews board or sometimes even more creative means (and, in some cases, hilarity ensues). Social media can mean crowdsourcing a question you have about a legal matter rather than calling your lawyer (and getting a steep bill in the mail a few days later) or spending hours poring over books in the library to try to figure the matter out for yourself.

Many older organizations have been less than enthusiastic to adopt social media, sometimes due to an older workforce that’s less comfortable with unfamiliar technologies, due to it not seeming to fit in to their workflows or processes, or sometimes due to regulations. To Oracle’s credit, Oracle’s leadership not only seems to accept that social media is A Thing, but embrace that it’s the coming Big Thing.

The question, of course, is whether Oracle’s brand of social media will be embraced by users. Oracle seems to get that they have to appeal to enterprise customers rather than consumers- but is enterprise ready to go social? Or is this an idea ahead of its time? Only time will tell, but I think most of us techies can agree that Oracle made a good move by stepping in to this growing area of interest.

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