Oracle competition is worth a look, Collaborate attendees say

There were plenty of messages to take away from Collaborate, but one of the main ones was that Oracle third-party options should not be ignored.

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One person warned against "drinking the Kool-Aid." Another said his company wants to decide when to upgrade its ERP software, "rather than the vendor telling us when to upgrade." A third likes "brand-new, shiny things," but if a product doesn't benefit her company, she won't get it.

Mark FontecchioMark Fontecchio

This is the sort of atmosphere you get at Collaborate, the annual conference for three Oracle user groups that was held last week in Denver. There's a reason why thousands of people go to a show like that: They run, and probably even like Oracle software, or at least many aspects of it. But attendees, and even some speakers, often take a certain arms-length approach to Oracle.

"What I'm encouraging you to do is rather than just drinking in the Kool-Aid, realize you have options," said Floyd Teter, executive vice president at EIS Technologies and a longtime Oracle applications expert. "Look at your options, look at the values rendered by each of those options, look at the cost of each of those options, and make a decision."

At Oracle OpenWorld, the atmosphere is much different. The Moscone Center has a giant Oracle banner across it, and tents everywhere sport the Oracle logo. Signs every 20 yards say something like "X% of the Fortune X run Oracle whatever." And on and on. At OpenWorld, it can be easy to forget there's another company in the world, never mind a competitor in the IT space.

Of course, that's by design. Oracle has its hands in every level of the IT stack, and it wants you to buy it all. Not only that, but Oracle also wants you to sell its products for them -- albeit indirectly.

"We have a huge portfolio right now," Oracle President Mark Hurd said during a Q&A keynote at Collaborate. "And frankly, my objective today is to get everyone fully educated on what we're doing, how we're doing it and why we're doing it. And my goal is to turn you all into zealots for Oracle."

For some Oracle customers, that could end up being the case. They might buy into the red stack the same way companies once bought into the IBM blue stack. For many companies, it works. One throat to choke, one vendor to point the finger at if things go wrong. And it's what Oracle is striving for: to be the IBM of yesteryear and the enterprise version of today's Apple.

Of course, the enterprise is not the same as the consumer market. Many grandparents can operate an iPad, but I doubt many can run an Exadata, no matter how integrated it is. But really, that's not the point. The point is that Oracle customers should feel that no matter how big and all-encompassing Oracle might seem -- even with its larger-than-life CEO Larry Ellison -- you still have a choice. Sure, you could buy an Exalytics box for business analytics and license Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition. And pay about 20% in support fees. Or you could run a third-party BI tool on commodity x86 hardware that can report on your Oracle ERP software, and get all the information you need from that. And you can let your Oracle software lapse off support and find a third-party support company to take its place.

"It's about the benefits," Rajesh Patanaik, IT applications director at Ross Stores, said about using third-party support. "It's true that we get support cheaper now, but it was really about freedom of choice."

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