Fusion Apps finally out of wraps

Sorry for the pathetic rhyme, but we waited bloody long enough for the privilege of writing it. Like almost every attendee at just-concluded Oracle OpenWorld, the suspense on when Oracle would finally lift the wraps on Fusion Apps was palpable. Staying cool with minimizing our carbon footprint, we weren’t physically at Moscone, but instead watching the webcasts and monitoring the Twitter stream from our home office.

The level of anticipation over Fusion apps was palpable. But it was hardly suspense as it seemed that a good cross-section of Twitterati were either analysts, reference customers, consultants or other business partners who have had their NDA sneak peaks (we had ours back in June), but had to keep our lips sealed until last night.

There was also plenty of impatience for Oracle to finally get on with a message that was being drowned out by its sudden obsession with hardware. Ellison spent most of his keynote time pumping up its Exadata cache memory database storage appliance and issuing a $10 million challenge to IBM that it can’t match Oracle’s database benchmarks on Sun. Yup, if the Sun acquisition goes trough, Oracle’s no longer strictly a software company, and although the Twiterati counted its share of big iron groupies, the predominant mood was that hardware was a distraction. “This conference has been hardware heavy from the start. Odd for a software conference,” tweeted Forrester analyst Paul Hamerman. “90 minutes into the keynote, nothing yet on Fusion apps,” “Larry clearly stalling with all this compression mumbo jumbo,” “Larry please hurry up and tell the world about Fusion Apps, fed up of saying YES it does exist to your skeptics,” and so on read the Twitter stream. There was fear that Oracle would simply tease us in a manner akin to Jon Stewart’s we’ll have to leave it there dig at CNN: “I am afraid that Larry soon will tell that as time has run out he will tell about Fusion applications in next OOW.” A 20-minute rousing speech from governor Arnold Schwarzenegger served as a welcome relief from Ellison’s newly found affection for big iron toys.

Ellison came back after the guvernator pleaded with the audience to stick around awhile and drop some change around California as the state is broke. The break gave him the chance to drift over to Oracle Enterprise Manager, which at least got the conversation off hardware. Ellison described some evolutionary enhancements where Oracle can track your configurations trough Enterprise Manager and automatically manage patching. As we’ve noted previously, Oracle has compelling solutions for all-Oracle environments, among them being a declarative framework for developing apps and specifying what to monitor and auto-patch.

But the spiel on Enterprise Manager provided a useful back door to the main topic, as Ellison showed how it could automate management of the next generation of Oracle apps. Ellison got the audience’s attention with the words, “We are code complete for all of this.”

Well almost everything. Oracle has completed work on all modules except manufacturing.

Ellison then gave a demo that was quite similar to one that we saw under NDA back in the summer. While ERP emerged with and was designed for client/server architectures, Fusion has emerged with a full Java EE and SOA architecture; it is built around Oracle Fusion middleware 11g and uses Oracle BPEL Process Manager to run processes as orchestrations of processes exposed from the Fusion apps or other legacy applications. That makes the architecture of Fusion Apps clean and flexible.

It uses SOA to loosely couple, rather than tightly integrate with other Fusion processes or processes exposed by existing back end applications, which should make Fusion apps more pliant and less prone to outage. That allows workflows in Fusion to be dynamic and flexible. If an order in the supply chain is held up, the process can be dynamically changed without bringing down order fulfillment processes for orders that are working correctly. It also allows Oracle to embed business intelligence throughout the suite, so that you don’t have to leave the application to perform analytics. For instance, in an HR process used for locating the right person for a job, you can dig up an employee’s salary history, and instead switching to a separate dashboard, you can instead retrieve and display relevant pieces of information necessary to see comparisons and make a decision.

Fusion’s SOA architecture also allows Oracle to abstract security and access control by relying on its separate, Fusion middleware-based Identity Manager product. The same goes with communications, where instant messaging systems can be pulled in (we didn’t see any integration with Wikis or other Web 2.0 social computing mechanisms, but we assume that they can be integrated as services.). It also applies to user interfaces, where you can use different rich internet clients by taking advantage of Oracle’s ADF framework in JDeveloper.

Oracle concedes the obvious: outside of the midmarket, there is no Greenfield market for ERP, and therefore, Fusion Apps are intended to supplement what you already have, not necessarily replace it. That includes Oracle’s existing applications, for which it currently promises at least a decade of more support. But at this point, Oracle is not being any more specific about rollout other than to say it would happen sometime next year.

Getting with the Program

Developers are a mighty stubborn bunch. Unlike the rest of the enterprise IT market, where a convergence of forces have favored a nobody gets fired for buying IBM, Oracle, SAP, or Microsoft, developers have no such herding instincts. Developers do not always get with the [enterprise] program.

For evidence, recall what happened the last time that the development market faced such consolidation. In the wake of web 1.0, the formerly fragmented development market – which used to revolve around dozens of languages and frameworks – congealed down to Java vs .NET camps. That was so 2002, however, as in the interim, developers have gravitated towards choosing their own alternatives.

The result was an explosion of what former Burton Group analyst Richard Monson Haefel termed the Rebel Frameworks (that was back in 2004), and more recently in the resurgence of scripting languages. In essence, developers didn’t take the future as inevitable, and for good reason: the so-called future of development circa 2002 was built on the assumption that everyone would gravitate to enterprise-class frameworks. Java and .NET were engineered on the assumption that the future of enterprise and Internet computing would be based on complex, multitier distributed transactional systems. It was accompanied by a growing risk-averseness: buy only from vendors that you expect will remain viable. Not surprisingly, enterprise computing procurements narrowed to IOSM (IBM, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft).

But the developer community lives to a different dynamic. In an age of open source, expertise for development frameworks and languages get dispersed; vendor viability becomes less of a concern. More importantly, developers only want to get the job done, and anyway, the tasks that they perform typically fall under the enterprise radar. Whereas a CFO may be concerned over the approach an ERP system may employ to managing financial system or supply chain processes, they are not going to care about development languages or frameworks.

The result is that developers remain independent minded, and that independence accounts for the popularity of alternatives to enterprise development platforms, with Ruby on Rails being the latest to enter the spotlight.

In one sense, Ruby’s path to prominence parallels Java in that the language was originally invented for another purpose. But there the similarity ends as, in Ruby’s case, no corporate entity really owned it. Ruby is a simple scripting language that became a viable alternative for web developers once David Heinemeier Hansson invented the Rails framework. The good news, Rails makes it easy to use Ruby to write relatively simple web database applications. Examples of Rails’ simplicity include:
• Eliminating the need to write configuration files for mapping requests to actions
• Avoiding multi-threading issues because Rails will not pool controller (logic) instances
• Dispensing with object-relational mapping files; instead, Rails automates much of this and tends to use very simplified naming conventions.

The bad news is that there are performance limitations and difficulties in handling more complex distributed transaction applications. But the good news is that when it comes to web apps, the vast majority are quite rudimentary, thank you.

The result has propelled a wave of alternative stacks, such as LAMP (Linux-Apache web server-MySQL-and either PHP, Python, or Perl) or, more recently, Ruby on Rails. At the other end of the spectrum, the Spring framework takes the same principle – simplification – to ease the pain of writing complex Java EE applications – but that’s not the segment addressed by PHP, MySQL, or Ruby on Rails. It reinforces the fact that, unlike the rest of the enterprise software market, developers don’t necessarily take orders from up top. Nobody told them to implement these alternative frameworks and languages.

The latest reminder of the strength of grassroots markets in the developer sector is Engine Yard’s securing of $19 million in C funding. The backing comes from some of the same players that also funded SpringSource (which was recently acquired by VMware). Some of the backing also comes from Amazon, whose Jeff Bezos owns outright 37Signals, the Chicago-based provider of project management software that employs Heinemeier Hansson. For the record, there is plenty of RoR presence in Amazon Web Services.

Engine Yard is an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider that has optimized the RoR stack for runtime. Although hardly the only cloud provider out there that supports RoR development, Engine Yard’s business is currently on a 2x growth streak. Funding stages the company either for IPO or buy out.

At this point the script sounds similar to SpringSource which, of course, just got acquired by VMware, and is launching a development and runtime cloud that will eventually become VMware’s Java counterpart to Microsoft Azure. It’s tempting to wonder whether a similar path will become reality for Engine Yard. The answer is that the question itself is too narrow. It is inevitable that a development and runtime cloud paired with enterprise plumbing (e.g., OS, hypervisor) will materialize for Ruby on Rails. With its $19 million funding, Engine Yard has the chance to gain critical mass mindshare in the RoR community – but don’t rule out rivals like Joyent yet.

South Korea, The Energizer Country

OK, for a change we’re not going to talk about IT.

It was quite a month, three trips mashed into one. A family trip out to the west coast to celebrate mother’s 94th birthday morphs into a business trip, visiting clients and prospects throughout Asia/Pacific. Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Australia. Economies in various states of maturity. Asian sense of organization – there are lots of people, for which infrastructure and systems were well designed to handle. You get food And drinks, even on 1-hour commuter flights. No delays – well, except for the Hong Kong – Singapore leg which was on United (the power went out just before we were supposed to push back from the gate).

As for the third trip, when this whole thing was booked last spring, the recession was in its nadir and Quantas direct flights between New York & Sydney were dirt cheap. With the logic of when the heck else would we ever find ourselves out there, we tacked on about 10 -1 12 days and made the last part a family trip.

A few highlights. Arriving in Australia after a red eye from “Asia” was a bit anticlimactic; you go most of the way around the world, traversing exotic cultures and cities, only to find out that you’re practically back “home” in a western nation. Call it Canada with a better climate and a sense of humor. Nothing exotic except for the flora and fauna. A prosperous country that doesn’t realize how good it has. A country with the land mass and natural resources (except water) on par with the states, but with only about 5 – 10% of the population. No wonder they’ve already figured out how to do national health care; Oz (Australia) can easily afford it.

Australia is a prosperous country with the optimism that there are better days ahead, mate. When things are going well and you don’t have to worry about freezing your as off, it’s easy to laugh about life’s absurdities. Australians are happy to be in Australia.

Changdeokgung Palace

Cut to the chase. The most surprising place was our first stop in Asia. We spent nearly 4 days in Seoul. Until now, the closest we got was Little Korea, the block of West 32nd Street between 5th and 6th (just below the Empire State Bldg.).

Of all the places we visited in Asia, Korea was the one where the least English is spoken. That’s in spite of the US historical presence (which made South Korea, and its economic miracle, possible), and the fact that most of the signs are in English as well as the local language. Korea is off the beaten track for westerners, and as a tourist destination, draws Asians to its flea markets. On its present course, however, Korea isn’t going to be such a shopper’s bargain forever.

Korea is A Tale of Two Cities, err… countries. It’s the golden age for the South, while it continues to be the Dark Ages up north; a glance at a nighttime map of the world clearly demarcates the boundaries of North Korea. Seoul (which is promoted as The Soul of Asia, as if anybody could understand what that really means) is barely 30 miles from the DMZ, but you’d never know it. In fact the 8-lane airport freeway ends abruptly in the northern suburbs; where the airport bus got off was barely even half the distance from the frontier. The freeway’s abrupt end also signifies that the country seems like it’s still under construction – sort of the throwback to the US in the 60s. Save that thought.

Back to the golden age, South Korea is booming – they’ve hardly been touched by the global recession. If you’re looking for a better indicator close to home, forget the ma and pa shops of Little Korea, head to the Samsung showroom at Time Warner Center in New York. Inside Manhatttan’s premier upscale shopping mall, Samsung has a store that sells nothing but image. You can’t buy anything at The Samsung Experience, but you can gape at all the cool 100-inch flat screens and multi-function mobile devices. A few years back, Samsung was a second tier consumer electronics supplier whose products were primarily found in off price stores. They made their strategic thrust in LCD, while Sony, the previous high end TV brand, was caught napping. Today, Samsung, not Sony, supplies the panels for Sony’s Bravia flat panels in addition to their own brand. Along with Sharp (Aquos), Samsung has cornered the high end of the flat panel market.

Samsung is a parable of the Korean economy. They are positioning themselves as the higher quality alternative to China in manufacturing. That has fueled a boom that is now manifested in the Seoul metro area, which has become one of the world’s largest construction sites.

Back to the US in the 60s thought; we were building the modern infrastructure that is now, after years of disinvestment, falling apart. Case in point: the DC Metro. When it was built in the 70s, it was considered a state of the art transit system. Decades of disinvestment later, the Metro was the site of the nation’s worst transit accident since the Malbone Street wreck in Brooklyn, dating back to World War I.

Back to Korea, the question is what happens when the construction is finally completed? Korea has a bumper crop of university graduates who are aspiring for more in life beyond an office salary. Like Japan, or India’s offshore developers, their expectations are being inflated as they join the global economy. Salary levels are going to rise. The manufacturing base will get challenged by the next country that introduces new crops of engineers to the global market at an earlier point in their development. Korean needs to learn from its age-old nemesis Japan, which has never fully recovered from the inflation born of rising income from exports, that in turn fueled a real estate spiral that careened out of control. If Korea is to claim its position at the higher end of the value chain, it will have to evolve beyond manufacturing (where there will be new competition) and construction (which will flatten out once the country or metro areas have built themselves out).

Hopefully Korea can also learn from its own history. Go to Changdeokgung Palace, the palace of palaces among Korea’s royalty. The place, designed in harmony with its natural surroundings, was built in the 15th century, was regularly burnt down by invaders and rebuilt roughly every 150 – 200 years, through the present.

The common thread is resiliency; through most of its history, Korea has either been fighting or been conquered by bigger guys in the neighborhood, principally Japan, China, and after the Second World War, the Soviet Union.

So today is truly a golden age in Korean history. They have never been so prosperous or seemingly secure. North Korea could be an exurb of Seoul, but South Koreans don’t take North Korea seriously – a lot of that is denial. With the wealth so conspicuous, it’s hard to think about the what-ifs. But today the world is buying Korean (Koreans are furiously buying American at Costco but that’s another story). Tomorrow South Korea will have to reinvent itself to go higher in the food chain if it is to preserve its newly won wealth. Just like the Japanese could not play the global economy on their own terms forever.

The day of reckoning will come when North Korea implodes. It’s not a question if, but when. And that’s where you’ll see movement in the world’s political geotectonic plates.

At some point it will be in China’s interest to seek a Grand Bargain. China doesn’t care who runs the north, and in fact, the nuclear nonsense is probably not in China’s best interest. China doesn’t want North Korea to disintegrate because of the huge refugee problem and unrest that it might cause in China’s northern provinces, not to mention causing a drain on its economic development. Consequently, North Korea is not the pawn of Russia and China that Iran is. North Korea lacks useful resources (oil) and a unique strategic position that could knock the west off balance.

There a solution to the North Korea problem, but unfortunately it is one that reflects American weakness. U.S. power and influence are waning; China holds most of our debt, and for China, the U.S. is too big to fail. As an export-oriented economy, South Korea is going to get to a crossroads where it must decide where its political and economic security best lie. Given current trends, we wouldn’t be surprised if at some point China offers South Korea a Grand Bargain – acknowledge China’s sphere of influence, and get the North back.

That of course would be a continuation of old history. Korea has never been big enough to survive on its own; it has either been conquered or operated as a protectorate. It’s too small and in too rough a neighborhood to stand alone. South Korea has operated under the U.S. protection umbrella since the Second World War; it’s not inconceivable if at some point its allegiance would shift to China, especially if that would get the Northern regime out of the way.

We’ll make one more prediction. Should the Koreas reunify, it would make the German counterpart look like child’s play. West Germany inherited a nation that had the highest standard of living in the former eastern block. Yet the cost of integrating the former eastern zone into the western economic and political system has drained the country. On the other hand, South Korea would be inheriting a region that ranks with Africa as one of the worlds basket cases. No matter how rich the south is, it will be up to its eyeballs civilizing the north.