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Ellison Ditches OpenWorld Keynote For America's Cup

Oracle CEO's no-show disappoints conference attendees expecting to hear about the company's cloud services.

Now we know where the cloud ranks on Larry Ellison’s list of priorities: right below sailing.

With tens of thousands of customers gathered at San Francisco’s Moscone Center Tuesday to hear Ellison’s annual manifesto--which was to revolve around the long-awaited lineup of cloud services his company, Oracle, unveiled this week after years of development--the always controversial CEO was a no-show. The reason? He opted to watch his Oracle Team USA continue its storied comeback in the America’s Cup by tying Emirates Team New Zealand, forcing a winner-take-all race Wednesday.

The Oracle executive VP tapped to speak in Ellison’s place at OpenWorld, Thomas Kurian, did a fine job articulating Oracle’s cloud strategy and products. But Kurian could have announced that the company had resurrected Albert Einstein to lead its R&D operation, and the talk of the conference still might have been Ellison’s absence.

The decision to blow off thousands of customers who traveled from all over the world to hear Ellison speak may have opened up a PR Pandora’s Box for Oracle--and, more pointedly, for Ellison--as conference attendees took to Twitter to express a wide range of reactions.

“You know what would've been cool? If @larryellison decided to stay @americascup & video-conference into his keynote. B/c you SHOW UP,” tweeted Grace Keh, a corporate marketing professional in San Francisco.

Gareth Llewellyn, a social media consultant from Sydney, captured the sentiment of many observers with this post: “You can’t envy Thomas Kurian having to stand in for a disappointed #openworld audience after a #larryellison no-show.”

[Read how EMC CEO Joe Tucci told the OpenWorld crowd how EMC plans to capitalize on cloud computing and big data trends in "EMC CEO Talks Up the Software-Defined Data Center."]

James Staten, an analyst from Forrester Research who posts as @staten7, was cynical: “Oracle IaaS announced but CEO Larry Ellison escapes to watch boats. Must not be that important of a service.”

Not everyone was miffed by Ellison’s decision, though. Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research Group, suggested via email that Ellison deserved to enjoy watching the America’s Cup team he’s backed, and that people need to get over themselves.

“I know lots of people are complaining,” says Pombriant, “but I think it’s reflexive, and it says more about our culture of victimhood and false sense of entitlement than it says about Larry Ellison.”

Meanwhile, amid all the handwringing over The Great Keynote Blow-Off, Kurian and Oracle were raising the curtain on an expanded lineup of cloud infrastructure, platform and application services that Pombriant says “will be vital to the further evolution of the cloud.”

Among the new cloud products Oracle launched:

-Compute and object storage clouds that clearly target Amazon’s popular EC2 and S3 services;

-Database, Java and mobile application development clouds that round out Oracle’s platform-as-a-service offerings and offer an alternative to Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform (Oracle also announced a new in-memory version of its database that it claims will improve performance 100-fold);

-A cloud marketplace where customers can find apps developed by Oracle partners;

-Two new cloud-based apps, one for business intelligence and the second for billing and revenue management

In his earlier keynote (not his stand-in appearance for Ellison), Kurian trumpeted Oracle’s success in delivering on promises it made at last year's OpenWorld. “A year ago, we said we’d bring infrastructure, we’d bring platform, we’d bring applications to the cloud,” said Kurian. “They will change the way software is used and consumed, and the way IT operations are managed.”

And if Team Oracle Team USA completes its stunning comeback with a victory Wednesday, the subsequent conference party, which features performances by Maroon 5 and The Black Keys, will be one heck of an Oracle celebration. Ellison might even show up for that.

Update: Oracle Team USA capped its comeback bid Wednesday afternoon, beating Emirates Team New Zealand with a 44-second victory.

[Get insight into the proper ways to design, build, and leverage cloud computing systems in "Getting Cloud Architecture Right The First Time" at Interop New York Sept. 30-Oct. 4]

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