Forum: A taste of the US mood at Oracle shindig

It's a facinating time to be here, with a financial meltdown in progress and a huge debate around the proposed US$700 billion government bailout

Oracle’s Openworld conference is probably the biggest vendor conference around, with 43,000 attendees. About 20 Kiwis, either customers or partners or the odd journalist, turned up for the three-day show in San Francisco last week.

It was a facinating time to be there, with a financial meltdown in progress and a huge debate around the proposed US$700 billon US government bailout. And then there is the election going on.

But one of the most striking things about OpenWorld is the support it gets from the city. One whole street was closed down (for a rumoured $1 million payment) to accomodate marquees for the delegates.

Just about the first person on stage in the 10,000 seat main floor at the Moscone Centre was the mayor, the incredibly young Gavin Newsom. A Democrat, he was elected in his mid-thirties and bathes in 70%-plus approval ratings, having delivered great surpluses to the city, universal healthcare, championed gay marriage and brought home a bunch of development projects. The city is currently trying to tackle its homeless problem, which is significant.

The business-friendly Newsom spoke about the city’s green campaign, pointing out that the power in the Moscone Centre was coming from the solar panels on its roof. Green is good for business, was one of his messages.

With 1,800 sessions and more staff than the biggest Kiwi conference has delegates, OpenWorld stretched even the mighty Moscone Centre, but the city turned itself over to make it work.

Back home in Auckland, the biggest IT conference is Microsoft’s Tech Ed, with about 2,300 delegates. It sells out fast and could be bigger if a venue could be found to accommodate it. I wonder whether the possibility of shutting down Federal Street, which runs between Sky City Casino and Hotel and the Sky City Conference Centre has been proposed. I also wonder how the council would react to such a proposal.

Would the mayor (sorry, one of the mayors) turn up and give a rousing address to kick it off? Would he be able to talk about how he’s revitalising the city, cleaning it up, driving its economy?

Another buzz in San Francisco that is very strong is how the financial crisis will impact on the high-tech industry. With Silicon Valley nestling in the southern San Francisco bay area this is a local issue. There is concern that the sector, which has ridden through troubles so far, could finally be affected as banks and other financial institutions cut spending.

Despite that, the development keeps going on. There were over 30 press releases issued by Oracle on day one of the event: updates, and upgrades, new products, cloud products and Beehive, Oracle’s latest attack on the collaboration software market.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was scheduled to speak as this was being written. The rumour was he had something big to say about a mysterious “X” that is being rolled out on large screens at the venue as a teaser: “The X is Coming 09.24.08”.

Just before Computerworld’s press-time he announced a Database Machine called the Exadata, developed with HP and Oracle’s “first ever hardware product”. He then made point-by-point unfavourable performance comparisons with other systems, many from vendors who were active sponsors of the OpenWorld event. Ouch.

• O’Neill travelled to OpenWorld as a guest of Oracle

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