Top 10 hot topics at Oracle OpenWorld

Oracle's annual OpenWorld conference kicks off Sunday and is set to be the biggest one yet, both in attendance and in information on future technologies that could have a major influence across the tech world. Here's a look at some of the hottest topics at the event, which runs through next Thursday in San Francisco.

1. Hurd and hardware

Oracle Co-President and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd will speak Monday in his first major show appearance since being named to the post last week.

Hurd, who is now in charge of sales, marketing and support for Oracle, is charged with selling the company's vision for systems that integrate software with servers and storage.

Oracle's Exadata database machine platform lies at the center of the strategy. Exadata boxes are capable of handling both analytic and transactional workloads, and, according to Oracle, do so much faster than machines from rivals like IBM.

It's possible that Hurd himself will unveil expected new Exadata products. Hurd will speak along with Oracle Chief Architect Edward Screven and John Fowler, executive vice president of systems.

2. HP's presence

Public tensions are running high between Oracle and HP, which sued Hurd for taking the Oracle job on grounds he violated the terms of his severance agreement. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has said HP's suit is "vindictive" and jeopardizes the companies' longstanding partnership.

But HP is nonetheless set to have a major presence at the show, with Ann Livermore, executive vice president of HP's enterprise business division, delivering a speech Sunday. But it remains to be seen whether Oracle takes pains to keep Hurd and Livermore separated during the week.

3. Fusion Applications finally arrive?

Oracle has been a little coy with the show's featured keynote on Sunday. At one point, the company's Web site said Ellison and other executives would discuss the long-awaited Fusion Applications, which are to combine the best features of Oracle's various product lines into a next-generation suite.

But as of Thursday, that description has been replaced with something more vague, stating simply that show goers should "join Larry Ellison as he previews the week's announcements and key product innovations."

While it's unknown what Ellison will say about Fusion Applications during that talk, the show is still set to feature many sessions on the software. It's unclear, however, whether Ellison or other Oracle executives will reveal what many observers eagerly want to see: a release date.

4. Calming the installed base

Even as Oracle revs up Fusion Applications, it needs to assuage any fears or concerns customers may have regarding their existing investments in applications like PeopleSoft, JD Edwards and E-Business Suite.

Oracle has been tackling this issue through the Applications Unlimited program, which promises that those software lines will continue to be updated and supported even after the delivery of Fusion Applications. There's no indication Oracle will make a radical departure from this strategy, but customers at OpenWorld will certainly be on the lookout for any shifts in the message.

5. Oracle's cloud strategy, clarified

Oracle has had an uneasy relationship with the general topic of cloud computing, having moved to develop related products even as Ellison publicly mocked the concept as marketing fluff.

Ellison hasn't publicly made wisecracks of that sort in some time, so the cloud talk at OpenWorld will likely be all business. The company's executive vice president of product development, Thomas Kurian, will deliver a keynote Monday that will give "Oracle's perspective on the impact of cloud computing throughout the application life cycle," as well as Oracle's "complete cloud offering across private, public, and hybrid clouds."

6. Where Java goes from here

Kurian is also set to give Oracle's primary statement on the future direction of Java, making his talk Monday a must-see for users of the ubiquitous programming language. He will discuss Oracle's plans for "strengthened investment and innovation in Java," as well as its future growth as "the most powerful, scalable, secure, and open platform for the global developer community."

Oracle will also give insight into road maps for individual flavors of Java, including Java EE (Enterprise Edition) and SE (Standard Edition).

7. MySQL's future revealed

A special series of sessions on Sunday will focus on MySQL, the open-source database Oracle acquired through the purchase of Sun Microsystems. Much hand-wringing has gone on over how MySQL will fare under Oracle's stewardship. Therefore, Screven's keynote on "what's next" with MySQL should garner particularly keen interest.

8. Benioff makes another visit

For the second year running, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff will give a presentation at OpenWorld, albeit in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts facility that is adjacent to the sprawling Moscone Center. He's expected to announce some news, but those hoping for some trash talk from the always-outspoken Benioff may leave disappointed.

After all, Benioff didn't deliver the goods last year, even though his appearance came just days after Ellison trashed Salesforce.com as a "little itty-bitty" application that depends on Oracle's technology.

Then again, maybe Benioff has had some time to mull over Ellison's slings and arrows and is coming to OpenWorld with a quiver of his own.

9. What will Larry say?

Ample evidence suggests that Oracle's major news announcements will occur during the conference's first few days. This would be a departure from past years, when the splashiest news was saved for Ellison's keynote toward the end of the show.

But there's little doubt that Ellison will have something provocative to say on Wednesday. And attendees may also be treated to an open Q&A session with the big boss, something that hasn't happened since 2007's OpenWorld.

Ellison could also feature surprise celebrity guests. Last year, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a well-received appearance.

10. Looking ahead

Famed inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, known for his work on artificial intelligence, will be speaking in a "special keynote" on Thursday as the show winds down. There's no word on whether Kurzweil will have any influence on Oracle's product direction, but his talk could be intriguing nonetheless.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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