Monday, November 10, 2008


Last week, I spent a day meeting with the Oracle sales account management team assigned to my shop. We spent most of the day discussing the functionality, future direction and current reliability of Fusion Middleware. The session started out with some high-level, PowerPoint type presentations, but we did get into some good detailed give-and-take as the day progressed. However, the real take-away for me came from a few presentations early in the day.

The morning presentations concerned both grid computing and RAC. The presenter for all the early morning sessions (Oracle's John Hax, who has proven himself repeatedly to be a very bright guy) consistently referred to the concept of "Oracle infrastructure": at it's simplest, a combination of Oracle Linux, the Oracle database, and Fusion Middleware. Any questions regarding the Oracle database, middleware, etc., were gently guided back into the Oracle infrastructure concept. It took me all weekend to distill the idea of Oracle infrastructure and what it means, but it hit me late Sunday evening. It came together as I was sitting in front of my new Apple iMac...

Oracle's strategic sales approach and technical direction is no longer about selling individual components or products, such as a database, enterprise apps, or middleware products. Don't misunderstand, they'll still sell products individually, but that's no longer the strategic direction. The real goal here is to sell a hub around which your enterprise can be structured. That basic hub (the Oracle infrastructure) consists of Oracle Linux (although other operating systems will do, Oracle Linux is obviously Oracle's first choice), the Oracle database, and the Fusion Middleware Applications Server. Your enterprise can then "plug in" other components and functionality (such as enterprise apps, Business Intelligence - Enterprise Edition, custom applications, etc.) into the hub.

How does the Apple iMac fit into this picture? Well, as I sat in front of mine, I pondered Apple's sales approach. Apple sells the iMac as a lifestyle hub: plug various things into the iMac (your iPod, your iPhone, your digital camera, your camcorder) to create, edit, and share the important things in your life. The real strength here is that Apple controls the user experience (via iTunes) and that the user experience works best when Apple controls the entire system. For example, the entire experience of obtaining and playing music on your iPod is controlled by Apple via iTunes. As both a PC user and an Apple user, I can also attest that the experience far superior on an Apple OS and an Apple computer. That's when it hit me...Oracle is taking a page from Apple's book.

In Oracle's space, the hub is the centerpiece for the enterprise rather than for an individual lifestyle. It's also true that, at present, Oracle's infrastructure is mostly composed of software (but with a slight nod to the recently-announced Exadata product line). Once the basic hub is in place, enterprises can plug in components or functionality important to each.

I think this comparision of Oracle and Apple even compares well with Oracle's "hot pluggable" concept. Customers can replace Oracle's components in the technology stack with any industry standard product (such as replacing JDeveloper with Eclipse). However, the overall user experience will always be best when using Oracle components...because Oracle can better control the entire system when you're using only Oracle products.

I spent time on the train ride this morning using this new lens to reconsider Oracle's strategic moves, especially in those involving middleware and enterprise apps, over the past 24 months. Some of those moves make much more sense to me this morning.

So this was the big "a-ha" moment of my weekend. Now, maybe you know all about this already and I'm the last guy to the party. Could also be true that I'm off my rocker about this idea. Still, I'd like to know how things look to ya'all. So, sit back, prop your feet up, relax for a minute, and consider what I've laid out here. Does it make sense or did I really miss the boat with this? Let me know what you think.


Ontario Emperor said...

I agree with your assessment of Oracle's strategic direction, and agree that Oracle has been pushing an "Oracle hub" strategy.

Actually, they've been pushing it for some time. For at least the last two years, I've heard repeated references to "the stack" at Oracle OpenWorld. Actually, this extends to 2006, and before.

I do see an important contrast between Oracle and Apple, at least in theory. Apple has the reputation of being a closed shop for its key components. Does Apple brag about the ability to run OS X on non-Apple hardware? Not exactly.

Imagine, if you will, that Oracle only sold turnkey solutions in which you were required to use Oracle Linux, Oracle Database, and Oracle Fusion Middleware...and you had to run it all on an HP Oracle Exadata Storage Server.

For whatever reason, Oracle allows you to mix and match Oracle products with products from other vendors. Sure, they're going to try to sell you on their stack, and sure they'll release products on Oracle Linux before some other operating systems, but they're not going to disown you if you use JBOSS.

Tim said...

Dang, John mentioned he was coming to JPL. I forgot to tell him to say Hi!

fteter said...

@ontario emperor: yup, the more I think about it, the more I realize that Oracle has been pushing the hub or stack idea for several years. It just took some time for the light bulb to switch on for me.

Also agree with your highlight of the differences between the Apple and Oracle approaches. Oracle is much more open. But I also see a commonality between the two companies with the goal of "controlling the whole widget": Apple does it via a not-so-open system, while Oracle does it by making sure that the best functionality and user experience comes by using Oracle products with Oracle products. Oracle is a bit more open to customer choices, but the end goal is the same: Oracle products run best with Oracle products.

Thanks for the comments!

Debra Lilley said...

But the apple is prettier than Larry's X box