I can snark on Oracle with the best of them. Let’s face it, Larry Ellison, he of the private islands, yacht races (BTW, Team New Zealand beat Oracle in the America’s Cup, despite Ellison’s billions!) and the perennially “next slide” filled keynotes is a polarizing figure. Yes, many big SaaS companies (think Salesforce and NetSuite) run on an Oracle database core, and yes, there are some huge enterprises that leverage Oracle for their core operations, but that’s not as cool as a Netflix, a Lyft or an Airbnb is it?

Slowly, but inexorably, however, Oracle has been changing its tune over the past couple of years. Don’t get me wrong, the traditional Oracle cliché of slimy salespeople driving around in late-model Porsche’s and strong-arming their clients to re-sign licenses is still a thing, but while strong-arming and traditional products are undeniably Oracle’s bread and butter still, they’re also doing real things in the cloud space.

They’re not trying to beat Amazon Web Services at their own game. Although you’d be hard pressed to realize that given Ellison’s continual claims to be a Goliath to AWS’ David. What they are trying to do is to keep the existing large enterprise customers they have and offer those customers more cloud offerings.

Fundamental macroeconomic questions for another day

Call me a hippie, but I can’t help but think that we’re seeing a dawn of a new world order. in a world where speed is the real currency, and financial clout is less important (or at least old-money is less important), newer, more nimble organizations are increasingly bumping off the traditional players. of course, Uber and Airbnb are the typical clichéd stereotypes, but in almost every industry – from transportation to banking, retail to insurance – there are new players ready to decimate the old.

In this dynamic world, the question needs to be asked as to just how viable is it for a business like Oracle to squeeze more and more revenue out of almost exclusively huge companies. Especially as those companies are being disrupted before our eyes by newer players who are highly unlikely to leverage Oracle products.

but as I said, that’s a revolutionary rant that is best kept for another day.

Any [Oracle] cloud, in a box

I was sitting in the Oracle Open World keynote a few years ago and (when I wasn’t being bemused by Ellison saying “next slide” every few minutes) the snark on Twitter was palpable when Ellison announced Exalogic, the Oracle “cloud in a box.” While many attendees might have bought the hype, those of us who have been watching the cloud space for years, and understand the benefits it brings weren’t convinced. It’s still a big box piece of kit that customers buy and install, it’s not a utility model, and it doesn’t fit what most hold as the minimum requirements for a cloud. As Dave Nielsen, long-time cloud proponent and founder of CloudCamp explains,

…cloud computing draws together four threads summed up by the OSSM acronym:

  • On-demand: the server is already setup and ready to be deployed
  • Self-service: customer chooses what they want, when they want it
  • Scalable: customer can choose how much they want and ramp up if necessary
  • Measureable: there’s metering/reporting so you know you are getting what you pay for

But, and this is a big but, while clouds in boxes may not meet our test for a true cloud, there are some customers, and some use-cases, where a private model is a requirement. Yes, these requirements may change over time, and yes the move to the public cloud is inexorable, but right here, right now, Oracle has customers that can’t (or won’t) use the public cloud and want some answers.

Oracle doubles down

And so, Oracle is doubling down on its own hybrid cloud strategy in an effort to appeal to that class of customer that wants or needs choice. This comes, of course, at an interesting time: Microsoft has recently announced its Azure Stack hybrid offering will be generally available, IBM is talking a private cloud story via Blue Mix local, an offering designed to help companies take a hybrid approach to building and running cloud apps. And rumors suggest that AWS and VMware are looking to partner on some kind of hybrid cloud play.

And so, given that 2017 would seem to be the year of the hybrid cloud, Oracle provides us with some timely hybrid fodder. The company is greatly increasing the number of services that customers can obtain via its “Cloud at Customer” on-premises offering. The aim is to give customers as close to full parity as is possible with the services on Oracle’s own public cloud. SaaS, PaaS, Big data – all candidates for privatization.

This is obviously for a very specific type of customer. Oracle was quick to point out that its pitch is aimed at companies like banks and healthcare providers, who have data-security, compliance and regulatory issues to manage.“

“Cloud at Customer” – hype or real value?

Oracle first started delivering upon the Cloud at Customer concept last year and since then the company has been working to expand it. Says Amit Zavery, senior vice president, product development, Oracle Cloud Platform:

We’ve been evolving our offering quite aggressively. One of the things we announced initially was a major shift in how we deliver our cloud’s capabilities versus other companies out there, the ability to run public cloud capabilities behind the customers’ firewall or also at a data center of their choice. This came up from the idea that enterprise customers have a lot of regulatory requirements and government customers also have a lot of concerns about how they can be in the public cloud —  so how do you get public cloud benefits and run them where they choose to?

The services that are now available via Cloud at Customer are:

  • PaaS: Customers can access essentially all of Oracle’s major PaaS offerings, including database, application development, analytics, big data, application and data integration, and identity management services. Oracle notes that the services benefit from enhancements made to the underlying Oracle Cloud at Customer platform, such as NVMe-based flash storage, an all-flash block storage designed to fuel performance of enterprise workloads
  • SaaS: Enterprise software is being offered via Cloud at Customer for the first time. Apps include ERP, Human Capital Management, CRM and Supply Chain Management
  • Big Data Cloud Machine: Also available for the first time via Cloud at Customer is the Oracle Big Data Cloud Machine, a Hadoop and Spark platform. This allows users to access Hadoop, Spark, and analytics tools on a subscription model.

MyPOV

Yeah, but it’s not really cloud, is it? In fairness to Oracle, they’re not just boxing up some cloud software and selling it at a huge margin, they’re actually innovating around the business models as well. For Cloud at Customer users, Oracle will physically deploy all the hardware and software onsite. Beyond an initial usage commitment, customers are charged the same price that they would be paying for Oracle’s public cloud services. Oracle manages the service remotely and the customer pays in the usual way. That;s a good start but, while Ellison will be quick to suggest his cloud is bigger, better and cheaper than AWS’ and the other big public cloud players, the fact of the matter is that no new businesses are building on Oracle.

Maybe it’s a perception thing, maybe it’s a speed of innovation thing, but the world has shifted on. Cloud at Customer will be super useful for some existing Oracle customers’ specific needs, but I don’t see AWS (or Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform for that matter) worrying much about “Big Red.”

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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