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Oracle to give early view of software demand

Oracle Corp. is poised to provide fresh evidence of the upward curve of technology spending on Thursday, and to detail its battle plan against emerging competitor Hewlett-Packard Co as the two tech giants vie to lead the datacenter revolution.

The business software leader, which last year bought server maker Sun Microsystems, is expected to post sharply higher sales and earnings as its strategy of offering a one-stop shop for business software and hardware shows signs of paying off in an improving economy.

The company, which reports a month before rivals, is always closely watched as it gives an early insight into the latest industry trends.

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This quarter, some analysts expect brash talk about Hewlett-Packard, which under new Chief Executive Leo Apotheker is set to focus more on services and software, which will bring it directly into competition with Oracle in some core markets.

Oracle, headed by outspoken and combative Silicon Valley billionaire Larry Ellison, is likely to shoot back on Thursday.

"I'd be very surprised if you don't get some very competitive talk about HP's plans," said Michael Yoshikami at YCMNET Advisors, noting that Oracle has a history of colourful remarks about beating its competitors, such as Germany's SAP and International Business Machines Corp .

Like IBM and Cisco Systems Inc , Oracle and Hewlett-Packard are aiming to provide the infrastructure for companies to move toward "cloud computing," where data is handled remotely in datacenters rather than on premises.

The looming battle between Oracle and Hewlett-Packard is given spice by the fact that HP's former chief executive Mark Hurd - who left last year after a flap over inaccurate expense reports and a questionable relationship with a female contractor - now works at Oracle.

Wall Street expects Oracle's fiscal third-quarter profit excluding one-time items to jump to 50 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, up from 38 cents a year ago. The company itself said in December it expected between 48 cents and 50 cents.

Analysts have forecast $8.7-billion in revenue, up from $6.5-billion a year ago, although that quarter only included one month of hardware sales from the Sun acquisition, which closed in January 2010.

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Some analysts warn that Oracle's new exposure to hardware, through the Sun deal, means it may suffer from supply chain problems caused by Japan's earthquake, which has constrained production of key computer components.

Oracle may also see some weakening of demand for its software in Japan, which accounted for 5 per cent of sales last fiscal year, but analysts do not expect that to offset industry growth.

"Unless one wants to make a more aggressive assertion that either whole companies will cease to exist or the world is headed back into another Great Recession," said Richard Davis, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity, "we side with the view of every software company with whom we have spoken - that they do not expect a material negative impact to underlying, almost universally favourable, demand trends."

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