Oracle's sprawling annual OpenWorld conference doesn't kick off until September, but next week the Oracle user group-backed Collaborate event will be held in Denver.
While smaller in scale than OpenWorld, Collaborate gives Oracle's increasingly diverse customer base a chance to network, get face time with product managers, attend educational sessions and get a glimpse into Oracle's road maps.
The show also gives Oracle watchers a chance to see how the vendor's strategies are resonating among customers in the run-up to OpenWorld. Here's a look at some of the top issues on tap at Collaborate.
Fusion Applications in the field: Oracle has been pushing its next-generation Fusion Applications, the result of a long and expensive development effort, in a gentle manner to customers, emphasizing a "co-existence" strategy where Fusion modules can sit alongside an existing E-Business Suite or PeopleSoft implementation.
Oracle says it has signed up several hundred Fusion Applications customers and a number have shared their stories at Collaborate.
One thing to watch for at this year's show is discussions of broader Fusion rollouts that do more to replace older systems. Such stories could spur confidence among the customer base and quicken Fusion adoption.
In addition, Oracle has said most initial Fusion customers are going with a cloud deployment model. That may be because of the complexity said to be involved with running the software on-premises. Therefore, evidence at Collaborate of a shift to in-house Fusion deployments will be of some note.
Database 12c: The Collaborate catalog is packed with sessions on Oracle's database, from upgrades to optimization and ongoing maintenance.
Hovering over it all is the specter of version 12c, which was expected to be released earlier this year but has yet to surface. The long-in-development upgrade features new technologies such as the "pluggable database" concept, which were discussed in some depth at OpenWorld last year.
But there are still many unknown details regarding 12c and its potential impact on customers' IT environments, as well as the competition
While it's doubtful that Oracle will make a general-availability announcement of 12c at Collaborate, it will be interesting to monitor the level of buzz among attendees about the release's arrival and features.
Upgrade parade and the installed base: Every applications vendor is eager for users to upgrade to the latest software versions, and Oracle is no different. Oracle Applications Users Group members, particularly those running E-Business Suite, have upgrades on the brain these days, and will be looking for tips at the show, said Oracle Applications Users Group board member Patricia Dues , in an interview. (OAUG is putting on Collaborate in conjunction with the Independent Oracle Users Group and the Quest International Users Group.)
They will also be looking for ways they can reduce expenses in their IT environments, which need not amount solely to slashing budgets, Dues said. "Sometimes, all we hear is 'how can you cut costs,'" she said. "Maybe we don't need to cut costs, we need to find efficiencies and those are going to save us money."
Oracle has made a long-term commitment to E-Business Suite, J.D. Edwards and other products under its Applications Unlimited program. But some attendees will likely be looking for an affirmation of that pledge and more clarity on how the Applications Unlimited portfolio fits alongside Fusion Applications in the long term.
For one thing, Applications Unlimited has "in a sense, been too successful," noted analyst Frank Scavo , president of consulting firm Strativa, http://fscavo.blogspot.com/2013/02/oracle-fusion-runs-into-oracle-apps.html "By continuing investment in its existing application suites, Oracle gives customers little incentive to move aggressively to Fusion. There is no burning reason for customers to change."
Engineered systems uptake: Oracle has been struggling to grow hardware revenues since the acquisition of Sun Microsystems, but has emphasized its focus on "engineered" systems like the Exadata database machine, which also run plenty of Oracle software, rather than commodity hardware. But the company is nonetheless feeling heat from Wall Street and investors with respect to hardware sales.
Exadata was the first, and is the most successful so far, of Oracle's engineered systems line, and the Collaborate sessions lineup reflects this. It remains to be seen how much evidence customers are adopting newer systems in the line, such as Exalogic and Exalytics, comes up at the show.
Cloudy conversations: Collaborate will undoubtedly feature plenty of talk about Oracle's cloud computing strategy, which ramped up in the past year or so, from co-president Mark Hurd's keynote to the many sessions planned on a wide variety of cloud topics, from applications to private cloud infrastructure.
Hurd's stump speech probably won't contain much in the way of new material, but the attendance levels at cloud-related sessions should give a pulse-check on how customers are responding to Oracle's message.
Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com