October 10, 2009. I braved the cold winds of San Francisco to attend Oracle Open World 2009. It was my first time to attend this event and true to what my hostess told me, it was jam packed with people wanting to listen to Larry Ellison deliver his welcome keynote address. What surprised me was Scott McNealy, chief executive of Sun Microsystems peddling his stuff to a crowd of Oracle guests and employees. Everyone was expecting McNealy to give his traditional Top 10 “funny, sometimes insightful, and almost always highly Microsoft-targeted” list. But the on-going Oracle acquisition of Sun prevented him from being his usual self (or so he said). Watch him deliver what may be one of his last keynotes as CEO of Sun Microsystems.

In his keynote, McNealy reminded everyone that Sun has “always been about innovation and despite today’s technology having the shelf-life of a banana, you have to keep inventing, creating and breaking-through with new stuff.” He also emphasized that the combined Oracle and Sun companies will create one of the largest pools of R&D in the world. Innovation is not just about creating something new but you need to provide value to your customers, and must result in success.

Larry Ellison, for his part, shared the ‘same excitement’ about the potential that two industry innovators (Sun on the hardware and Oracle on the application software) can bring together to the market. He promised to continue investing in Sun’s core innovations including the Sparc chip and the Solaris operating system.

The announcement of the next release of the Exadata server series seems to corroborate this promise. The first Exadata released was a HP-Oracle venture. Exadata Version 2 sees Oracle partnering with Sun to produce an even better product. While the first version focused on speeding up data warehousing (DW), the succeeding version included online transaction processing (OLTP) compute capability in the same box. What Oracle is trying to do here is deliver a complete DW/OLTP solution that integrates server, storage, operating system, middleware and application to do something faster than is possible by amalgamating different elements from different vendors, the way system integrators do.

Certainly the Exadata offers a slightly radical way of running your data warehouse. If you believe Larry Ellison’s slide on the comparative cost of the Exadata to the IBM near equivalent offering, the price differential is staggering. Such a shift in the way data warehouses are built and delivered should amount to what McNealy calls innovation that delivers true value and profits to an organization.

So am I sold on the idea that Sun will thrive under the Oracle umbrella? The Exadata 2 proves there may be a future for Sun inside Oracle. But I still have some lingering doubts and perhaps its because of the way McNealy left the stage as he closed his keynote. In my mind, it signalled a quiet resignation on the part of this entrepreneur who co-founded a company that today represents a sizeable install base in finance, education, and government industry sectors. But maybe I am just reading too much into it. Watch for yourself below.

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