SAN FRANCISCO—Oracle has been accused of being late to the party when it comes to cloud computing—almost 10 years too late—but now the company is moving like Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt rounding the turn in the 200-meter sprint.
The Silicon Valley stalwart and its irrepressible Executive Chairman Larry Ellison are as confident and brash about their cloud strategy as the perennial gold-winning Jamaican runner crossing the finish line with another victory.
In keynotes here at the Oracle World conference this week, Ellison called out cloud competitor Amazon Web Services on several counts by virtually announcing the end of AWS’ reign at the top of the cloud infrastructure services market.
“Amazon’s lead is over,” he said, and followed that up with attacks on AWS’ database services. AWS is “20 years behind” Oracle on several fundamental database functions, Ellison said, as he asserted that Oracle’s database performance soundly beats AWS’ Redshift and Aurora databases in benchmark tests. Ellison noted that the Oracle Cloud Database will run in any cloud, while AWS’ databases are locked into the AWS infrastructure.
Over the years Ellison has made bold statements and predictions, famously mocking cloud computing eight years ago. But this week’s claims are not lip service: Oracle is as focused and as deadly serious as they have ever been.
“Have no doubt that Oracle is in this with a mission and a purpose,” said Don Johnson, an ex-Amazon Web Services executive and now Oracle vice president of engineering in charge of building out the company’s new bare metal cloud service. “We have a forward-leaning, innovative approach to doing this. We have the know-how, the skill set, and we’re coming in fast, weapons hot. So pay attention.”
Johnson is among more than 400 engineers Oracle has hired away from AWS, Microsoft Azure, the Google Cloud Platform and other vendors during the past two years to lead the effort to build the second-generation public cloud, a term that reflects Oracle’s contention AWS is based on “first-generation” cloud technologies.
Building on a Clean Slate
If Amazon Web Services had the classic first-move advantage in public cloud computing by essentially inventing the cloud infrastructure services market, then Oracle has the second-mover advantage.
It is seeking to improve the fundamental infrastructure design, network virtualization and management to improve performance, security and scalability, said Deepak Patil Oracle’s vice president of development. Patil said he joined Oracle earlier this year after leading the development of Azure because of the irresistible allure of having “done all of this for the past decade and wanting to try it again with a clean slate.”
Oracle Closing in on AWS, Microsoft With Public Cloud Infrastructure
The clean slate is just that—the provisioning of bare metal computing and raw computing power, really not unlike every other modern hyperscale data center including Google, Facebook and IBM SoftLayer, running standard Intel Xeon E5 v4 processors, Non-Volatile Member Express-attached flash storage and flat Clos networking architectures, Johnson said.
“We are not significantly differentiated,” he said. “What we are doing is now the canonical best practice for very high-scale data centers. There are some shades of differences. But the notion of a big, flat, fast Clos network is the best practice right now.”
Oracle is differentiating its cloud infrastructure through networking virtualization via a “bump in the wire” black box attached to the wires coming into the servers that contains software-defined networking logic.
Also known as “off-box virtualization,” Johnson said the scheme enables better performance, improves security and frees the system from dependence on somebody else’s software. “We didn’t want to make long-term bets for significant pieces of logic in any virtualization layer, in any hypervisor or software stack layer that would remove flexibility from our system,” Johnson said.
This architecture makes it easier to provision data center compute for customers and accommodate customer demand, which helps Oracle play that game of catch-up with AWS. “We are applying lessons in just-in-time provisioning to ensure our ability to grow isn’t getting in the way of our customers’ ability to scale,” Patil said.
AWS still has a large market share advantage over Oracle and is by all accounts about $6 billion ahead in annual cloud revenue run-rate. While Microsoft has caught up to AWS in revenue, the overall market is still very small. At the recent VMWorld conference and at this week’s Open World, vendors believe the vast majority of enterprise users are just beginning to look at the cloud, with a long journey ahead and with plenty of time for second- and even third-generation clouds to be built.
So it’s not a sprint, then, but a marathon. Before too long AWS may be looking over its shoulder and seeing Oracle pull up alongside, but they both have to save something in reserve for the long race to come.
Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. He has an extensive background in the technology field. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture, at TechTarget. Before that, he was the director, Editorial Operations, at Ziff Davis Enterprise. While at Ziff Davis Media, he was a writer and editor at eWEEK. No investment advice is offered in his blog. All duties are disclaimed. Scot works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.