Oracle Showcases Data Discovery, Commits to Public Cloud

What's new and forthcoming from Oracle? Cindi Howson takes us inside Oracle's annual analyst conference.

By Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard

Oracle recently showcased new and upcoming products at its annual analyst conference in San Francisco.

In the BI space, the biggest announcements were around Exalytics, Oracle Endeca Information Discovery, analytic apps, and a commitment to public cloud. Exalytics, announced at World in October and became generally available in February; it's a combination appliance and in-memory solution. The in-memory engine relies on technology from TimesTen, an in-memory, columnar database that Oracle acquired in 2005 used more in transaction processing. Exalytics can store both Essbase cubes and models from OBI EE in memory, boosting performance for both planning applications and existing BI apps.

Oracle claims an 18x performance boost to existing BI and planning apps. An in-memory summary advisor recommends which data should best be stored in-memory based on usage statistics. I am still waiting to test drive the new release and appliance, but the in-memory summary advisor seems to be a unique differentiator, particularly if it is self optimizing. The integration with Exadata via a fast InfiniBand connection for direct access to the larger data warehouse is another differentiator, but I'd like to see how seamlessly the data moves from Exadata to Exalytics.

Exalytics was initially touted as both an in-memory and visual discovery solution. To be sure, there are some new visual discovery capabilities in the latest release of OBI EE when deployed with Exalytics, but in addition, Oracle now has Endeca Information Discovery in its portfolio. Oracle acquired Endeca in October 2011, primarily for its MDEX engine. Endeca is most widely known for its e-commerce capabilities and the faceted search to such e-tailers as ebags.

Endeca brings the simplicity of search to BI, a capability not widely adopted but possible with competitive solutions such as QlikView, SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, and Information Builders Magnify. The biggest difference in the MDEX engine is its combination in-memory and columnar storage to support analysis of both structured content and textual, semi-structured content stored in comments, documents, and social media. Oracle's plans for integrating Endeca with OBI EE were shared under non-disclosure.

The BI analytic applications has been one of Oracle's Trojan horses for selling OBI EE into Oracle E-business Suite, J.D. Edwards, and the PeopleSoft customer base. The analytic applications are expansive, bringing ETL, data models, dashboards and reports, and best practices to a number of functional areas and industries. The biggest competition here is in the build-it-yourself approach or for EBS customers, Noetix Analytics (acquired from Jaros in 2009). Oracle has continued to improve its depth of coverage in the analytic applications, most recently adding Asset Management and Manufacturing Process, as well as support for SAP data sources.

Executive vice president Thomas Kurian shared details of Oracle's plans for public cloud. The only thing I can share at this point is that the public cloud solution will be available this summer, but what's in and out is also under NDA, so stay tuned.

The high point of the event was the customer panel, which unfortunately was also under non-disclosure. This panel was one of the best I have heard in my 10 years as an analyst, in part because they delivered their criticism of Oracle with humor ... and that they were critical at all. However, it was their constructive criticism that made the kudos all the more believable. As one OBI EE customer who had also deployed Endeca said, "Oracle bought an amazing technology (Endeca). I'm not sure they yet realize how good it is."

A key theme of the event and a rallying cry for Oracle's strategy is to simplify the IT experience to power extreme innovation. I "get" the rallying cry: IT can't keep pace with business demand with difficult-to-integrate and difficult-to-deploy technology, but rarely has the goal of "helping IT" been inspirational to the business.

I suspect part of this shift in emphasis is related to Oracle's 2010 acquisition of Sun Systems, and that hardware now accounts for almost 20 percent of its $35 billion in annual revenues. Not surprising then, a fair bit of the keynotes was devoted to talking bits and bytes of its engineered systems. There was a time in my career when I was happy to assemble servers, but as a BI expert today, I felt somewhat like the car buyer who simply wants to drive that sleek car, not dissect the engine.

Although servers and hardware have not been high-growth industries of late, the difference is that Oracle's focus is on systems that power business analytics, for which most market watchers cite double-digit growth. To that point, Oracle showcased customer after customer success story for Exadata. As one customer said, "We read all the glossy brochures (on Exadata). The product has lived up to the hype."

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