Yesterday Oracle announced a new online transaction processing database service, finally bringing its key database technology into the cloud. The company, which has been around for over four decades made its mark selling databases to the biggest companies in the world, but as the world has changed, large enterprise customers have been moving increasingly to the cloud. These autonomous database products could mark Oracle’s best hope for cloud success.
The database giant, which has a market cap of over $194 billion and over $67 billion in cash on hand certainly has options no matter what happens with its cloud products. Yet if the future of enterprise computing is in the cloud, the company needs to find some sustained success there, and what better way to lure its existing customers than with its bread and butter database products.
Oracle has demonstrated a stronger commitment to the cloud in recent years after showing much disdain for it. In fact, it announced it would be building 12 new regional data centers earlier this year alone, but it wasn’t always that way. Company founder and executive chairman Larry Ellison famously made fun of the cloud as “more fashion driven than women’s fashion.” Granted that was in 2008, but his company certainly came late to the party.
A different kind of selling
The cloud is not just a different way of delivering software, platform and infrastructure, it’s a different way of selling. While switching databases might not be an easy thing to do for most large companies, the cloud subscription payment model still offers a way out that licensing rarely did. As such, it requires more of a partnership between vendor and customer. After years of having a reputation of being aggressive with customers, it may be even harder for them to make this shift.
Salesforce exec Keith Block (who was promoted to Co-CEO just yesterday), worked at Oracle for 20 years before joining Salesforce in 2013. In an interview with TechCrunch in 2016, when asked specifically about the differences between Oracle and Salesforce, he contrasted the two company’s approaches and the challenges a company like Oracle, born and raised in the open prem world, faces as it shifts to the cloud. It takes more than a change in platform, he said.
“You also have to have the right business model and when you think about our business model, it is a ‘shared success model’. Basically, as you adopt the technology, it’s married to our payment schemes. So that’s very, very important because if the customer doesn’t win, we don’t win,” Block said at the time.
John Dinsdale, chief analyst and managing director at Synergy Research, a firm that keeps close watch on the cloud market, agrees that companies born on-prem face adjustments when moving to the cloud. “In order to survive and thrive in today’s cloud-oriented environment, any software company that grew up in the on-prem world needs to have powerful, cost-effective products that can be packaged and delivered flexibly – irrespective of whether that is via the cloud or via some form of enhanced on-prem solution,” he said.
Database as a Service or bust
All that said, if Oracle could adjust, it has the advantage of having a foothold inside the enterprise. It also claims a painless transition from on-prem Oracle database to its database cloud service, which if a company is considering moving to the cloud could be attractive. There is also the autonomous aspect of its cloud database offerings, which promises to be self-tuning, self-healing with automated maintenance and updates and very little downtime.
Carl Olofson, an analyst with IDC who covers the database market sees Oracle’s database service offerings as critical to its cloud aspirations, but expects business could move slowly here. “Certainly, this development (Oracle’s database offerings) looms large for those whose core systems run on Oracle Database, but there are other factors to consider, including any planned or active investment in SaaS on other cloud platforms, the overall future database strategy, the complexity of moving operations from the datacenter to the cloud, and so on. So, I expect actual movement here to be gradual.” he said.
Adam Ronthal, an analyst at Gartner sees the database service offerings as Oracle’s best chance for cloud success. “The Autonomous Data Warehouse and the Autonomous Transaction Processing offerings are really the first true cloud offerings from Oracle. They are designed and architected for cloud, and priced competitively. They are strategic and it is very important for Oracle to demonstrate success and value with these offerings as they build credibility and momentum for their cloud offerings,” he said.
The big question is can Oracle deliver in a cloud context using a more collaborative sales model, which is still not clear. While it showed some early success as it has transitioned to the cloud, it’s always easier to move from a small market share number to a bigger one, and the numbers (when they have given them) have flipped in the wrong direction in recent earnings reports.
As the stakes grow ever higher, Oracle is betting on what it’s known best all along, the databases that made the company. We’ll have to wait and see if that bet pays off or if Oracle’s days of database dominance are numbered as business looks to public cloud alternatives.