It has been a very interesting if not momentous 2009 for Oracle so far. In the past six months, the company made a milestone acquisition that could fundamentally change the competitive landscape among enterprise vendors, rolled out arguably its most strategically important series of middleware products, and played musical chairs with a few top executives, resulting in the technical direction of all its applications being placed in the hands of one man.
Here are what we think were the top five Oracle stories for the first half of the year.
1) Oracle acquires Sun Microsystems
This was the easiest choice for this list, but it could be the most difficult for Oracle to pull off successfully. The $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun catapults Oracle, already a powerhouse, to one of the two or three most important IT companies on the planet. With Sun's hardware and rich array of open source software – most notably Java -- Oracle can now compete one on one worldwide with IBM on everything from chips to business process software, particularly with solutions made up of integrated hardware-software stacks.
With firm control over Java, the deal also allows Oracle to apply a lot more pressure on longtime nemesis Microsoft. With Java, Oracle can align itself with IBM and other Java supporters to go hard at Microsoft's .Net programming environment. It remains to be seen, however, what Oracle will keep and discard once the deal is approved later this summer.
Already, the company has been vague about its intentions for the very popular MySQL open source database and the promising Glassfish open source apps server, and Sun has killed off its next generation 64-bit multi-core chip, code-named Rock. What remains in Oracle's Sun-based portfolio a year from now should be interesting.
2) Fusion Middleware 11g makes its debut
Easily Oracle's biggest middleware announcement of the past few years was its July 1 unveiling of Fusion Middleware 11g. It was notable because its long-awaited features, such as better support for SaaS and cloud computing flavored applications, bring the product line into the modern age. It was also notable because the new series will function as a "convergence layer" sitting in the middle of an integrated stack of Oracle, and eventually non-Oracle, products. Version 11g is one of the pieces that will allow Oracle to more aggressively sell "pre-fab" integrated stacks of software.
3) The rise of Thomas Kurian
With Thomas Kurian taking over the duties of Charles Rozwat, the former executive vice president of product development, Kurian now has control over both middleware and applications products. He just might have more influence over the strategic direction of Oracle's core products than anyone inside the company -- except, of course, for Larry Ellison. Given Kurian's inclination toward stack computing, it is one more confirmation of how Oracle plans to compete in the market over the next few years.
The one question some have is this: Will Kurian push an all-Oracle stack over products that support various third-party infrastructures and applications? We may get an answer to that as soon as year's end.
4) Virtual Iron acquisition
Oracle made headlines when it acquired virtualization software vendor Virtual Iron in May. It then proceeded to make even bigger headlines when it announced in June that it would discontinue the Virtual Iron product line. But since Oracle seems to be on a perpetual acquisition spree, what made this purchase so significant?
With the acquisition, Oracle appeared to be gravitating toward a new customer base, given that Virtual Iron caters to small and medium-sized businesses. This seemed to be a good thing because it gave Oracle more muscle in a market that figures to grow significantly over the next few years and where Oracle will face stiff competition from VMware, Citrix and Microsoft.
But Oracle will "suspend development of existing Virtual Iron products and will suspend delivery of orders to new customers," according to a letter from Oracle to Virtual Iron sales partners. How then will Oracle successfully combine Virtual Iron products with its own and pursue both the SMB and enterprise markets? And is this foreshadowing how Oracle will deal with Sun's virtualization portfolio? These questions probably will not be answered for another year.
5) Oracle rolls out, revamps Beehive collaboration platform
At OpenWorld 2008, Oracle introduced a promising new collaboration platform, Beehive, intended to be a central platform for bringing together different functions such as email, calendars, conferencing, wikis and tasks. Many were skeptical, given the competition the company faced from IBM and Microsoft, which have had competitive offerings for years.
But at Collaborate '09 in May, Oracle revealed a new version of Beehive, claiming it represents a more centralized approach than the distributed offerings of Microsoft and IBM. One of the more interesting features of the product is its Web-based Team Workspaces that can be accessed either centrally or by individual teams. It will be interesting to see what level of acceptance it has among users and how much share Oracle can tear away from IBM and Microsoft over the next year.