During a keynote that saw Larry Ellison make up for his abysmal performance of a few days before, and before bigger news events in Silicon Valley bought the tech world to its knees, a number of announcements were made with the usual Ellison flourishes. Curiously these two massive announcements were made towards the end of OpenWorld, as Denis Pombriant points out;

I have to conclude that if they had announced the cloud and social network earlier in the week, they would have been forced to answer questions and provide demonstrations.  As it is, we all go home armed with knowledge of these products only through a demo that Larry did on stage but none of the reassurance that they are real.  It would not be the first time that Oracle announced something early.

The Oracle Cloud

Only a few short years after Ellison’s infamous dismissal of Cloud, Oracle has moved into a brave new world and announced a range of Cloud products. The essence of the products unveiled today is a fully automated public cloud approach that packs a Java Enterprise Edition (JEE) application platform along with an Oracle database. The idea being that this packaged approach to a cloud enables organizations to move entire cloud from on-premise to off, from private infrastructure to public.

In talking up this portability, Ellison was highly critical of the salesforce approach which, in his words, is a roach motel – with data in proprietary formats and only available on salesforce’s own infrastructure. As Simon Wardley points out, it’s a high risk strategy. While it is true that salesforce’s original development paradigm uses a proprietary language (Apex), and while it is also a fact that right now the only place to get salesforce is from salesforce’s own infrastructure, there is every chance that both these failing will be solved rapidly – the first from more open PaaS plays like Heroku, the second from what Wardley describes as an

…open source as a tactical weapon in this space. They could open source the entire system and say “come and compete”, “run it yourself” with full knowledge that those who build it for themselves and take the private road will eventually switch to public, whilst those setting up as public providers will lack the ecosystem and hence any aggregated data benefits.

But looking beyond simply the locker-room antics of salesforce and Oracle – there are many products in the marketplace that give organizations the ability to build their own cloud (either base level infrastructure or higher level PaaS) where they want it. This strategy of building commercial success wrapped around an open source core is exactly what OpenStack and CloudFoundry are about – in OpenStack’s case it’s a chance for providers without a compelling cloud story to get on board fast and adopt something that looks likely to become the industry standard. in the case of CloudFoundry, it’s a chance for VMware to ensure the continuing success of its bread and butter products and services.

The jury is out (actually, in my mind the jury has already decided an emphatic “NO!”) as to whether the Oracle sticker on a cloud product is sufficient to convince companies to chose an “Oracle powered” cloud over one that they can fire up built on top of open source components. In the short term it is undeniable that the momentum that oracle has within larger enterprises will allow this holding pattern strategy to eek out a few more years of lock in – beyond that, I doubt it.

The Oracle Social Network

Larry Ellison also gave an extended (many commented that it was too extended) demo of Oracle’s new social tools. As others have pointed out, we are yet to see these tools in the flesh and there is every chance that what we saw was no more than vaporware – time will answer that question. What was interesting was that these tools, while undoubtedly revolutionary within Oracle applications, are really not fundamentally different from what we see in other enterprise social applications – whether it’s from salesforce or Jive, Socialtext or Box.net, for those of us who watch this space it was hard not to shout at Ellison on screen and say “Duh, we’ve been doing this stuff for years dude!”. Again, as Pombriant pointed out;

In conception, the Oracle Cloud and Social Network sound good and they will appeal to a big audience of Oracle customers.  But they are not fundamentally different — and one needs to question if they are better — than what’s already on the market.

That said, and in something that is a slightly less than fair aspect of our industry, the fact of the matter is that given Oracle’s incumbent position within enterprises, there is every chance that the majority of attendees watching the keynote were truly amazed by what they saw, it’s a safe bet that 80% of Oracle’s hard-core customers have either never experienced social in the enterprise context, or had written it off as baloney pending the validation that Larry gave it – such is the luxury an incumbent enjoys.

What Does It All Mean?

Oracle is a massive company, with a highly dominant position with the largest enterprises. They will use this dominant position to extend the highly profitable business that they run in spite of the commodity based, nimble and cheaper options out there. In the short to medium term Ellison gets to explain to large organization that he essentially invented these concepts – however if the past few decades in our industry have shown us anything, it’s that technology companies have a definite life span and it rare organizations indeed that are able to keep reinventing themselves to remain relevant under new technology paradigms. Larry Ellison is a canny player who realized this – it’s a safe bet that he’s already thought about his next step, and the several after that.

While as someone who watches this space closely I’m not overly excited about either of these announcements, as a validation of a paradigm shift they’re nice landmarks. Time will tell if they’ll be enough in the long term for Oracle.

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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