Larry Ellison has long been the kind of bluster, few will ever be able to erase the memory of Larry’s diatribe in the early days of cloud. One thing that isn’t bluster, however, is the oft-repeated Ellison reflection upon the fact that the vast majority of large cloud applications and platforms run, at least under the covers, upon an Oracle database. And it’s a very real point of pain to the leaders of those database companies – Salesforce’s co-CEO, Marc Benioff, and Ellison had a very public war of words over Salesforce’s statement of a few years ago suggesting that they’ were actively building a replacement for the core Oracle database upon which Salesforce runs.

More recently the most prominent public cloud, AWS, stated a goal of moving off of the Oracle database within a few years. That statement started a war of words between folks from both the Oracle and AWS camps, not to mention the army of pundits who follow the cloud space. Whatever the future might hold for Salesforce, AWS and the others built upon Oracle, the fact of the matter is that Ellison’s claim of database dominance is one which, as painful as it might be, no one can really argue.

Of course being locked to a platform is different from being happy to be on a platform and the largest organizations – both technology and enterprise, often complain about the handcuffs and inflexibility of Oracle and the fact that, in an ideal world, they’d love to take advantage of the more flexible offerings that other technologies bring.

The best of both worlds?

So, what happens if you take the database that runs the lion’s share of the largest workloads, and sprinkles it with a generous helping of cloud-like flexibility, autonomy, and agility? Well that is what Oracle is promising with the recent announcement of the Oracle Autonomous Database Cloud Service (now that really rolls off the tongue!)

The offering is like a marketers dream with machine learning, automation and delivering seemingly the best of all worlds – cost savings, security, availability, and productivity.

The essence of the offering is that it combines the two sides of delivering a database – the hardware and software aspects. Sprinkling some machine learning over the combined offering means that, according to Oracle, they can offer a database which is essentially infinitely scalable, while offering an unprecedented level of automation – self-securing, self-scaling, and self-repairing.

Never one to mince words, Ellison rang in a quote from his island lair to mark the launch commenting that:

Oracle is by far the best database in the world and it just got a lot better because now it’s autonomous. This delivers a much more reliable, much more secure system—a system that protects against data theft, a system that is up 99.995 percent of the time, and a system that makes organizations and their developers dramatically more productive.

He backed that up by claiming that:

We’re the easiest database in the world to use. There’s nothing to learn, there’s nothing to do. It’s much much less labor involved so it’s much, much lower in cost. It’s truly elastic because you only pay for the infrastructure that you use. So when the application is not running then Oracle deactivates servers – it’s called a serverless system. And if you’re at a busy time then it will automatically add servers while the system is is still running.

About that automation

Oracle’s Autonomous Transaction Processing (ATP) offering, the chosen name for the database offering, complements the previously announced Oracle Autonomous Data Warehouse service and is promising some pretty heavy advantages including:

  • Economics – automation of database and infrastructure operations is claimed to cut administrative costs up to 80 percent. In addition, Oracle claims that the self-optimizing database together with elastic pay-per-use cuts runtime costs up to 90 percent
  • Security and reliability – Oracle promises automatic application of the latest security updates with no downtime and protection from all types of failures, including system failures, regional outages, and user errors. The upshot is a promised 99.995 percent availability, or less than 2.5 minutes of downtime a month, including maintenance
  • It wouldn’t be the technology industry if there wasn’t a promise of delivering agility. According to the company, eliminating database maintenance allows database administrators to focus on getting more value from data. Developers become more agile by instantly creating and effortlessly using databases that require no manual tuning. Integrated machine learning algorithms enable the development of applications that perform real-time predictions, such as personalized shopping and fraud detection.

Hyperbole aside

It’s always hard to separate Ellison’s exuberance from the reality on the street but one thing shouldn’t be understated, the aforementioned global companies who leverage the Oracle database do so because it is the most robust and fit-for-purpose offering that exists. They might not like it, but it’s the case.

What they don’t like is that utilizing Oracle also brings other aspects – high cost, inflexibility and often a fairly traditional way of delivering enterprise IT. As such, the ATP, or at least what Oracle is promising ATP will deliver, looks a little bit like the best of both worlds – Oracle’s traditional robustness with the sort of flexibility and economics that customers have generally enjoyed from the new breed of cloud companies.

Add to that the fact that ATP is essentially the same Oracle database they already know, simply delivered in a different way, and you have the potential for some real game-changing.

It would be premature to accept Ellison’s opinion that ATP marks the end of any of the other cloud vendor’s ability to compete and essentially means Oracle will be the cloud vendor for the future – the fact of the matter is that I can’t think of any newer cloud vendors, be they infrastructure or software, who would consider Oracle the logical choice of provider. It’s not like Oracle has any real developer credibility.

But for existing enterprises who are considering their nascent moves to the cloud, ATP might just change the conversation. One thing is for sure, there are a bunch of dyed-in-the-wool enterprise CTOs out there who are breathing a sigh of relief today, Ellison has given them an answer for their CEO’s continual demands for the sort of agility seen from more modern organizations. ATP, at least at first blush, allows them to deliver their CEO’s demands, but without the agony and heartbreak that wholesale platform change brings.

It’s certainly going to be a case of “watch this space.”

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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