SAN FRANCISCO—Oracle, which will celebrate its 40th year in business next June 16, has been hit over the years—fairly or falsely—about being a place where lock-in is Job No. 1, where Exadata and databases went first class, and where open source and cloud services traveled in steerage for years.
Things have changed over at the Blue Cylindrical Houses That Larry Built on San Francisco Bay. The true values of open source and cloud services have been discovered and monetized. It's pretty obvious that Oracle—along with another famously former proprietarian company, Microsoft—has found religion in the past few years when it comes to new-gen enterprise IT, but it took them both a long time to get around to it.
Now, as the huge company surges in a new direction to provide alternative Linux software and hundreds of cloud services for all of its traditional on-premises hardware and software, it finds itself facing new adversaries, such as Amazon, Salesforce, Workday, Zuora, Kenandy, Google and dozens of other cloud-services providers.
By the way, it still competes for sales on a daily basis with the Dell EMCs, Hewlett Packard Enterprises, Ciscos, SAPs and VMwares of the world, too.
Oracle vs. the World
So it's basically Oracle vs. the World. Oracle wants to become what IBM, the original Hewlett-Packard and Dell EMC once aspired to be: the true one-stop shop for all of your enterprise IT needs, whether you're a midsize manufacturing company or the U.S. federal government.
To try to be all things to all enterprises is a highly daunting assignment and requires a heck of a lot of latitude as well as attitude. Oracle's 136,000 employees bring the latitude, and co-founder/CTO and designated braggart Larry Ellison supplies the attitude.
The fact is, Oracle does continue to iterate on its original codebase and produce databases and business applications that companies around the world keep buying, whether or not they are stuck like flies in the company's contract web. A $1 billion-plus in profit each quarter is testament to real business.
While Oracle does continue to sell many of the same basic products it did 25 years ago, it actually is coming up with some new twists on many of them. Admittedly, the company itself doesn't always come out and proclaim to be an innovator as such.
Oracle Is, in Fact, Innovating
"We know what our customers want: They want performance, cost efficiency, security and availability. Those are kind of mom-and-apple pie for infrastructure, and I want to make sure that people know I'm there for them to do that," Oracle Executive Vice President of Systems John Fowler told eWEEK. "But more importantly, I want to get people to understand that we really have some different stuff here.
"We're not doing an ordinary rack-and-stack cluster, write some scripts or whatever. We've done some really deep work, whether it's in a processor, or what we've done in Exadata storage cells. Our focus here is to say: 'If we really want to change performance, let's not just go add another computer, let's figure out what we can go change about that.'"
In-memory computing is a hot topic right now, Fowler said, but it's really only useful in reporting analytics because it's not highly available. "We announced today [Sept. 21] that [Oracle's in-memory database] is now highly available. That means you can use in-memory everywhere; that's an example of 'We're different,'" he said.
Most of the new products and services that Oracle announced at OpenWorld 2016 were begun three to five years ago, Fowler said. "People don't realize how hard it is and how long these things take [to get ready for market]. We mirror in-memory databases, too. The challenge for the other vendors in catching up is: 'Well, how long ago did you start?"'
The 'Never Been Done Befores'
Here, according to Fowler, are the key NDB's (Never Done Befores) that were announced at OpenWorld:
--high-availability/mirroring of in-memory databases;
--a new combined software-and-silicon solution to accelerate SQL queries;
--silicon-secured memory layer to protect in-memory arrays;
--the ability to recover data to any transaction point in Oracle's ZDL (Zero Data Loss Recovery Appliance) array;
--AL4 availability certification in a delivered open system; this refers to Oracle Exadata in a Maximum Availability Architecture (MAA) configuration is recognized by IDC Research as a system that delivers at least 5-nines' availability and is categorized in the IDC AL4 fault-tolerant market segment.
Those items may be a bit on the esoteric side of IT, but they are new features.
Oracle didn't name these innovations as "never been done before" at OpenWorld, although after questioning by eWEEK, Fowler realized they are key steps forward in existing products.
"You actually helped me with this because sometimes we who are working on all this stuff are too close to it, so sometimes we don't see the obvious," Fowler said with a smile. "We should have named all this onstage!"
From Silicon to Public Cloud
A lot of people don't realize this, but Oracle is now the only IT company of any size and scope that is able to provide virtually everything in enterprise IT—from SPARC silicon chips to data center hardware to public/hybrid/private cloud services and everything in between.
The least well-known segment in Oracle's product line is in networking, where it has a set of solutions that include high-end Infiniband, Ethernet, software-defined, and virtual network routers and switches.
IBM, HPE, Dell EMC (no specific software division after selling it off earlier this year), Cisco Systems and a few others do substantial parts of this whole picture, but not as extensively as Oracle.
That would be offering basically any type of IT system, on-premises, public cloud, private cloud or hybrid cloud, for any size business.
Oracle is already highly successful in the old-school Fortune 1000. The question is this: Can the company educate and convince more of the world's midrange companies and startups that it can deliver efficient cloud services at prices that are affordable and won't lock them into scary long-term contracts?
Oracle will need to demonstrate this over a period of time if it is to succeed in the new-gen IT economy. The landscape is hardly what it was a decade ago; there's too much new competition that can erode the big company's business over the next several years.
eWEEK will have another article on this topic soon.