Oracle's past year has been full of drama and landmark acquisitions, but company President Charles Phillips adopted a conservative tone for his Monday morning keynote address opening this year's OpenWorld conference for Oracle's customers, partners and developers. His low-key speech outlined Oracle's open, standards-based product development plans and the Fusion architecture it's developing to integrate functionality from its ever-expanding collection of business applications.
Oracle's US$5.85 billion deal to acquire Siebel Systems didn't figure in Phillips' remarks, although Oracle plans to address the issue in a "town hall" session Monday afternoon. Instead, Phillips focused on reassuring customers that Oracle will listen to feedback about their support and product integration needs. Toward that end, he announced a new "lifetime support" option for all Oracle products, including those it has acquired.
Few hard details were available on the lifetime support offer, including how it will be priced and what sort of support it entails, but the program's intent is to allow customers that want to remain on older versions to continue running them indefinitely, Phillips said. He called the program an industry first in assuring customers that critical fixes will always be available.
"The reason we're able to do some of this is that we have the scale to make that happen," Phillips said.
The advantages of Oracle's scale was a recurring theme in his speech, which also rehashed the Fusion road map Oracle laid out earlier this year following its PeopleSoft acquisition. Oracle is rebranding its middleware with the Fusion name and working toward a new, Java-based applications suite, dubbed Project Fusion, that will incorporate functionality from its disparate applications portfolio, which now includes its own applications along with those from PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards, Retek and, soon, Siebel. Oracle's first set of Fusion applications is scheduled for release in 2008.
One frequently voiced question about Oracle's Fusion plans is to what extent Oracle will support other vendors' middleware and database products. The company took a step toward addressing those concerns by announcing Monday that it will work with IBM to enable customers to use IBM's WebSphere middleware with Project Fusion applications.
What will happen with database support remains an open question, Phillips said in a meeting with press following his keynote. Some functionality and security features are present in Oracle's database that rival products such as DB2 lack, according to Phillips. Oracle is in talks with customers about the "trade-offs" of multiple database support and expects to make a decision on the issue within the next year, he said.
A pair of OpenWorld attendees from the Johnson County Government's Oracle support group in Olathe, Kansas, said they appreciated Phillips' "Oracle 101"-style overview of the company's strategy and plans. Johnson County Oracle HRMS (human resource management system) Project Manager Danny Ferguson and Oracle Projects Manager Robert Moulder were hearing about Fusion for the first time. They said they like Oracle's emphasis on moving toward more open, flexible systems.
They also like the acquisitive swath Oracle is cutting through the software industry. "I love it," Ferguson said. "It creates more opportunity; instead of having all these different software platforms, we can move toward one streamlined set."
In his meeting with reporters, Phillips suggested Oracle isn't yet finished shopping, though he declined to discuss what other companies or technology areas it's eyeing. Oracle has spent more than US$13 billion in the past year acquiring nearly a dozen companies. Asked what Oracle has learned along the way, especially from its contentious PeopleSoft takeover, Phillips said it has grown more conscious of the need for speed and clarity in communicating its plans. Within hours of last week's Siebel announcement, Oracle executives began contacting Siebel's partners to discuss their future role with Oracle.
When it comes to integrating the employees -- those it retains -- of acquired companies, Oracle isn't concerned about culture clashes, Phillips said.
"A substantial number of those employees worked at Oracle before," he said. "It's like a homecoming, these last few acquisitions. Oracle has really populated the enterprise software industry."