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Ellison: 'Fusion Must Coexist'

SAN FRANCISCO – Oracle's famous CEO didn't need musician Billy Joel to introduce him at Oracle OpenWorld to get the audience's attention, but if you can afford it, why not? "Do you want me to sing while you play piano?" Larry Ellison asked as Joel walked off stage and the crowd laughed.

But Joel didn't play and Ellison got quickly down to business before a packed conference hall of thousands of Oracle customers Wednesday afternoon. (Joel, Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Nicks with Mick Fleetwood were slated to perform at a party for attendees in the evening).

Ellison jumped quickly into Oracle's news of the week, recapping its virtualization news, Linux support and applications based on its Fusion technology.

On the Linux front, Ellison said Oracle's made significant headway since announcing its adoption of Red Hat Linux, with over a thousand customers on board, including such recognizable names as Diebold, iHop, Timex, Abercrombie & Fitch and the City of Las Vegas.

Ellison claimed Oracle has spent most of its efforts the past year on technical and engineering support and fixing bugs in Red Hat to make sure it worked reliably with Oracle software. "We're only just really starting our sales effort," he said. "We think we'll grow faster next year."

Part of that effort is an announcement that tech reseller CDW will market Oracle's Linux products.

Ellison also acknowledged Red Hat's growth in "a healthy market" for both companies. "We're also doing something Red Hat isn't, which is shipping Oracle VM underneath our Linux offering so there is a single stack of code. If you have applications that run on Red Hat, it will run unchanged on Oracle's enterprise software."

Fusion in 2008

The bulk of his talk focused on Oracle's next generation of applications, called Fusion. Ellison said the first Fusion apps, built on Oracle's "industry standard middleware" and a Service Oriented Architecture , are on track for release by the middle of 2008 at the latest. "I fantasize about them shipping earlier," said Ellison.

In talking to customers about their wish list for Fusion, Ellison said the number one concern they raised is that it co-exist with existing applications. Ellison promised Fusion will integrate with popular Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and CRM systems via "integration packs" that will come with the software. "It integrates with ERP because it has to, that's where your customer data is," said Ellison.

Two other customer concerns Ellison raised is that Fusion be better than just "cool new technology" and deliver measurable business benefit and that it be available on premises as well as a Software as a Service (SaaS). The CEO said in fact Fusion will be available as both on premise and SaaS .

On the value point Ellison stressed that Fusion does more than simply automate tasks, it uses business intelligence to help users make better decisions. Ellison and Oracle vice president of CRM On Demand, Anthony Lye, went through several demos of Fusion applications that are far along in development.

For example, while a process automation application will help with ordering a product from a supplier and getting approvals, Ellison said a Fusion app will tell you if making the order will put you over budget. "You might still want to place the order but you have more information to make your decision," said Ellison.

Fusion is designed to augment applications like such as Sales Force Automation (SFA) from the likes of Oracle's own Siebel line and Salesforce.com. Ellison called these useful forecasting tools for sales manager. But a Fusion application called Sales Prospector functions as a kind of data mining application, looking at the data in those SFA apps to help salespeople find new selling opportunities.

He compared Sales Prospector to a more sophisticated version of Amazon's product recommendation feature, helping salespeople see what other products or services their prospects are likely interested in buying. "It shows you what other customers are buying, and those customers are the best reference to try and persuade others to buy," Ellison said.

Some charitable words for Microsoft?

The keynote almost finished with scant mention of arch rival Microsoft, a favorite whipping boy for Ellison, until a wrap up Q&A session. An attendee started to describe the philanthropic efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and said buying Microsoft software supports its charitable efforts. He then asked whether Ellison had similar plans and the CEO gave a terse, somewhat amused response.

"Bill Gates has been very generous and gave a lot of Microsoft stock to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation," said Ellison. "The Foundation converted that stock to money. If you bought Word and think some of that money is going to help some poor child in the Andes, you're strongly mistaken."