No, Really, Oracle Does Cloud Computing

Oracle may be late to the cloud, or perhaps it’s right on time. Either way, it faces big challenges ahead.

oracle openworld press conference

Journalists before Oracle co-CEO Mark Hurd's press conference

For Oracle, the good news about co-CEO Mark Hurd’s press conference was the international make-up of the journalists who covered it. Among the 500 or so reporters filling a conference room in San Francisco’s swank St. Regis Hotel, I heard Japanese, Mandarin, French. I chatted with a reporter who traveled from Sri Lanka (“twenty hours, through Dubai”) to attend Oracle OpenWorld, which included this event.

This global crew reflects Oracle’s status as a tech behemoth. With a market cap of $169 billion and a workforce of some 120,000, the company is an ultimate legacy data center titan.

If that’s the good news about the press conference, the bad news – well, let’s call it the challenging news – was the struggle the event represented. Oracle is widely perceived as being a laggard in cloud computing. Yet Hurd would soon come on stage and tout Oracle's deep strength in the cloud. This was going to be a major marketing effort.

Inarguably, Oracle is running behind cloud leaders like Amazon, Google and Microsoft, which have fully embraced the new model. And even these leaders compete with a sprawling ecosystem of cloud startups offering a dazzling array of tools. We’re now in the Third Platform, in which mobile-social-cloud is the dominant platform – and everything changes every 90 minutes.

The new on-demand model for technology is directly opposed to Oracle’s classic (and highly profitable) way of doing business. And really, Oracle doesn’t serve early adopters. Oracle’s bread and butter has been selling established solutions to established companies. Much of the lucrative IT market is anything but early adopters. Established companies prefer to wait until the pioneers have taken arrows in their back, struggling with emerging technology. Innovation? Ahead of the curve? Those phrases are sexy but dangerous when you run a big infrastructure.

Yet Oracle knows change is needed. The goal of the recent OpenWorld show seemed to be to change that perception. It was the database giant’s way of saying: We are now a top-of-mind cloud player leading the market.

In his press conference, Mark Hurd seemed determined to promote Oracle as a cloud leader. He delivered his remarks with great conviction. As he spoke, a screen appeared announcing that Oracle offered a “more complete cloud solution than any IT vendor in the world.” At this point that’s more ambition than fact.

Not that Hurd was discouraged. He spoke dismissively of cloud-based companies like Salesforce and WorkDay, which, as he described it, are merely niche players. In contrast, he stressed Oracle’s width and depth. The company’s cloud offerings are both “best of breed” – a phrase he repeated – and part of a comprehensive suite of integrated solutions.

“Our on-premise business is growing at the same time our cloud business is growing,” he said. He suggested still greater SaaS growth looking ahead.

When Hurd opened it up to questions, some reporters were openly skeptical. One reporter asked whether Oracle would be willing to match Amazon on pricing. AWS and other cloud leaders have aggressively slashed prices in the so-called “race to the bottom.” Hurd in effect said that Oracle will price similarly to Amazon, but he side-stepped promising to compete as aggressively on price. (However, CTO Larry Ellison announced that Oracle would match Amazon’s price.)

Another reporter asked Hurd to pinpoint what, specifically – given Oracle’s supposed overall dominance – is Oracle’s greatest strength in the cloud. But Hurd seemed to avoid a focused answer. His response, to my ears, seemed to say, “We can do it all and do it well.”

And the company claims to be going all in – boldly. For a reluctant participant it is wildly ambitious. As Ellison had said the day before, "Oracle is going to own all three levels of the cloud: SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. We're not going to miss this opportunity." Clearly it’s set up to be a force in the database as a service market.

After Hurd’s press conference I spoke with Frank Scavo, president of Computer Economics, a research firm. He had been in the audience.

“In terms of mind share, they’re certainly farther behind than they would like to admit,” he said. “When people talk about cloud, the first name that comes to mind is not Oracle. On the positive side, Oracle has tremendous resources to throw at the problem, which you can see they’re doing.”

“But they’ve got a legacy installed base, customers that are, in some cases, very conservative, very tradition, that maybe are not looking to Oracle for their first choice when they are ready to move to the cloud,” he added. “So I think Oracle has some work to do in demonstrating the momentum in getting to the cloud.

In truth, it’s not too late to join the battle to win cloud market share. For all the fortunes spent, the cloud is still young. Given Oracle’s gargantuan resources and vast entrenched customer base, it clearly has a shot. But the field is now so crowded and well-funded that, even with Oracle’s resources, the effort won’t be easy.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Tags: database, Oracle, cloud computing

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