It’s the week of Oracle Open World and a buoyant Larry Ellison gave an animated performance at his keynote announcing a number of new products and services – his performance was in stark contrast to last year’s “next slide” debacle – perhaps the fact that his boat had just that day won two races in the Americas Cup against Team New Zealand put Mr Ellison in his happy place. Anyway – highlights of Ellison’s keynote are viewable below for those who haven’t had enough of the big man himself.
There were a number of announcements made during the keynote – I’ll not go into detail but broadly speaking the company announced:
- An in-memory option for the Oracle 12C database – flip a switch to get in-memory analytics as hyperspeed
- The Oracle Big Memory Machine M6-32 – the fastest machine in the world for databases stored in-memory
- Oracle Database Backup, Logging, Recovery Appliances – a cloud-based database backup and restoration system
Holger Mueller has a great roundup of the technical details over on his blog but I wanted to take a look at the broader scene and comment on what would appear to be a unique position for Oracle of being able to focus almost exclusively on the technicalities of these announcements rather than the business value.
Over the past few months we have seen two of the stars in the cloud world, Salesforce and NetSuite, commit to long term continued use of Oracle’s 12C platform. While clearly there are some non-technical reasons for doing this (Ellison is, after all, the biggest shareholder in NetSuite and many people suggest there is a mid to long term plan between Ellison and Benioff around succession) it is also undeniable that these two companies need the highest level of performance and functionality from a database to run their platforms on. Despite the incestuous nature of the relationship, it’s unlikely that either of these players would be using 12C if it wasn’t up to the job.
Commentators (myself included) made mention of the fact that Ellison spent the vast majority of the time talking “speeds and feeds” and not articulating any real business value from the announcements:
— R Ray Wang (@rwang0) September 23, 2013
Upon reflection however I believe that we’re seeing a very interesting thing with Oracle generally. While unquestionably they’re losing some luster in the hardware space (and it was interesting to see Ellison defend Oracle hardware, trying to question the robustness of following a commodity hardware approach), when it comes to stonking big databases, it seems that Oracle really has all the cards. While NoSQL databases have gained lots of attention, and many cloud providers use them extensively, the world’s largest enterprises are often not looking to these sorts of companies for guidance when it comes to technology decisions. rather they’re looking to see what some of organizations with the most demanding use-cases are. And given the breadth of needs that a customer such as Salesforce has, they’re likely to follow Salesforce and NetSuite’s guidance and go with oracle.
Of course it’s not all plain sailing for Oracle, it was, after all, SAP that bought in-memory databases to market with HANA. In fact SAP was quick to critique Oracle approach after the keynote:
It’s great to hear Larry singing from Hasso Plattner’s playbook, but Oracle is still missing the mark. They are still trying to make queries run faster but missed the chance to simplify the data management at the same time.
But the proof of the pudding is the eating, and having Salesforce commit to 12c for years ahead is a strong endorsement, and gives Ellison the ability to talk tech rather than justify the business value. Indeed, as Mueller pointed out in his post, there are similarities between the way oracle and SAP articulate what they’re offering here:
As an observer it’s interesting to see how much both industry veterans – Ellison and Plattner – care about solving a performance problem that traditional databases could not address – the flexible crunching of large amounts of data – often referred to as the analytical applications buzzword wise today. And both gentlemen get a tad professorial talking about this – Plattner with blackboard sessions – Ellison with talking about the fundamental challenges of database architecture.
Oracle (and, for that matter, SAP) may be the big vendor that everyone loves to hate. There are more stories about Oracle’s massively expensive technologies and gigantic licensing deals than you can shake a stick at. But as is often the case in this industry, much of that negativity is around the fact that in many cases there aren’t any credible alternatives. oracle continues to derive massive revenues and ongoing custom despite the high cost of its solutions. The reason for this is the core technology that they deliver. This position of power gives Ellison some luxury – from a personal perspective it means he can blow a mountain of cash on an Americas Cup challenge, and from a business perspective it means he can spend 90 minutes in a keynote talking about technology.