For once, Oracle OpenWorld went long on substance. That’s hard to do when you have so many products to discuss and Larry Ellison pontificating but Larry was both under control and substantive though he couldn’t resist taking a few shots at competitors. So he announced that his team hardly ever sees SAP and IBM in deals these days and gave due praise to cloud pioneers NetSuite and Salesforce.
Interestingly, he always mentioned NetSuite, which he owns a considerable share of, before Salesforce, which he invested in back in the day, despite the fact that Salesforce is six times larger than NetSuite by revenues. Both companies are doing just fine thank you veddy much.
Beyond the product revisions and enhancements I saw two real news items: Oracle is now (at last) a cloud company and the company put an important marker down on improving IT security—first things first.
Oracle has always been in a different business than the cloud pioneers in that Oracle has a huge customer base (420,000 customers on one sign) to bring along to the promised land compared to the pioneers who more or less invited customers to start over, in many cases, in the cloud.
That reality permeated the keynotes and discussions led by Ellison, in a Sunday keynote, CEO Mark Hurd, on Monday, Thomas Kurian, President of Product Development, Tuesday, and Ellison in another keynote on Tuesday. Each man offered the view that for the next one to two decades, enterprises would operate in a hybrid—on-premise and cloud model—transition state. Further, each was careful to articulate that Oracle would continue to develop, maintain, and enhance on-premise applications during that time. No hard date for the end of the transition was offered.
It was a delicate balancing act trying to assure big enterprises considering the cloud because their deployments represent a large mass of computing that won’t easily unravel over night. Still, my thinking is that while there might be traces of on-premise applications 15 years from now, most of the transference will happen quicker for two reasons. First, cloud apps will make their users more competitive and second, security improvements will make cloud increasingly attractive.
By itself, cloud is just a delivery mechanism and there’s little about it to recommend it for pure delivery. But layered on top, as most people know, there’s a total cost of ownership advantage to cloud systems. Even more than this, however, is the reality that when businesses transfer to new platforms, most take the time to reimagine the business and the apps. Consequently, the great cloud migration of the rest of this decade will be a moment when businesses ditch some spreadsheet apps that never worked very well so that they can achieve long desired end-to-end process support for their businesses. This migration from transaction systems or systems of record to process oriented systems is where the real payback for moving to the cloud will be found. It is also a real source of competitive differentiation for most companies, which will drive rapid adoption so hang on, it should be an interesting ride.
At the same time, we need to acknowledge that when those businesses start to reimagine their business processes, it will open up many to competitive bidding for those new apps. That’s no surprise and one big reason that Oracle is making a conscious effort to court customers by being with them in their moments of truth as they contemplate their next moves. In my opinion that’s smart, let’s watch how it plays out.
Security—What’s old is new
Many people shook their heads when Oracle bought Sun Microsystems because they saw Sun as playing in a space that was rapidly commoditizing. Some thought it as big a folly as Carly and HP buying Compaq but almost instantly Ellison began inventing differentiated hardware that set new standards for in-memory operations that vastly accelerated business processing. Devices like Xadata, a storage device that leverages flash memory so that storage operations could happen at memory speeds rather than much slower disk speeds led the parade.
At OpenWorld, Ellison announced that the new security direction of IT based on Oracle products is to encrypt all data. He introduced several vaults, like a password vault that stores unique encryption/de-encryption codes that users could keep on their own machines (hopefully a machine not connected to the Internet) or on-line in an Oracle cloud. But that was nothing, the bigger news was a new M7 CPU chip that offers security at the silicon level. This was instantly controversial in my circle and needs some explaining.
Security in silicon
Oracle’s approach to security with the M7 chip will be hotly debated with some people thinking it’s just a speed bump for dedicated hackers while others might see more promise. I think I am in the latter camp though there’s a huge caveat.
Oracle/Ellison discusses the security debate this way. Securing IT should happen at the lowest possible level in the stack, so for instance securing applications and data should happen at the operating system level which is also a logical place for hackers to do their worst. So to secure everything we need to find ways to bring security into silicon a place where hackers can’t make changes because hackers can’t alter chips. The M7 imposes what’s basically a check-in, check-out scheme for memory. It allocates a given amount of memory to tasks and if some piece of malware tries to occupy the memory space, overflowing the set parameters, the system can easily detect the intrusion and alert operators. Software bugs might operate the same way so there might be a few false positives as this paradigm gets going. So what? This is a crude description and for a more detailed explanation check out Oracle’s video cache from the show to see Larry explain it all.
As good as this sounds, and also incorporating M7’s very fast decompression algorithms, this security only operates on servers, it does nothing to protect desktops or handhelds. The advent of the M7 could be an incentive to hackers to turn their attention to smaller machines, which could be infected to do things on behalf of bad guys. If so, M7 technology could be coming to a future PC, laptop or smartphone
On the other hand
While OpenWorld was a good show, it could have been better in some details. Some of the discussions of platform and infrastructure could have been helped along by video animation of some arcane points. I found myself watching demos that went on too long only to show a static screen with one thing changing in a window to indicate an infrastructure accomplishment. Oracle is long overdue for investing in more video for these events and judging by his comments at one point, I think Ellison took undue and perverse pride in his “graphically challenged” slides as one Tweet put it.
A couple of years ago, Oracle shrewdly ditched the CRM badge and called itself a CX or customer experience company and there were enough CX announcements to make front office people happy. However, it should be noted that the Oracle CX event will happen in April in Las Vegas so stay tuned for that. Another post will dive deeper into CX at OpenWorld.
The critique I’d offer on CX is the same I’d give to any CRM vendor today. There’s a big discussion of products but too often it revolves around point solutions for marketing automation, sales enablement, mobile computing or whatever. This represents a transaction mindset and the front office needs to move aggressively to full end-to-end process support because that’s an important marker of the cloud.
My impression of all CRM vendors today is that they’re selling to the lowest common denominator, i.e. aiming for the user that just wants to use CRM as a glorified rolodex. That user represents about half of the market so the orientation is understandable but I wonder how it sits with the more advanced users.
At some point we need to flip a bit and concentrate more on processes that the first half of the market can best use. That’s why I am eager to see what happens in Las Vegas in April and at other CRM vendor events next year.
I’ll close now
Oracle has become a real cloud company with offerings at the software, platform, and infrastructure levels. But it still takes a data center-centric approach to the business especially when trying to reassure existing customers that there’s time for an orderly migration. It is a “new” cloud company in that it has thousands of successful and very reference-able customers and not tens or hundreds of thousands. Nonetheless, it is making strides and forecasts more than a billion dollars of new cloud business in the year ahead.
The company’s ace in the hole as it continues moving to the cloud may be its security through silicon approach, which must still be vetted. I might be in the minority about the security announcements but it strikes me that locking down memory and CPU and encrypting data will enable users to starve any malware that tries to gain a foothold.
Since many cloud and subscription vendors as well as enterprise customers already use Oracle DB and many are buying Xadata devices, we could see a dramatic decline in intrusions and data thefts. But that won’t end the problem; it might simply make the hackers focus more intently on the desktops and smart devices. I don’t think the IoT will take off until security is well in hand and that will ensure the security discussion continues.
This week Zach Nelson, CEO of NetSuite, a.k.a. Larry’s other company, took over the Marc Benioff chair as guest antagonist but given the relationship between the companies the vibe was more sedate. For instance, no one went to the talk at the Lam Theater in Yerba Buena Gardens wondering if Nelson would be controversial or if he would utter the words, “We come in peace,” as Benioff once had. That much was a given.
Nonetheless, Nelson served roughly the same purpose as Benioff; he was the emissary from the cloud. He functioned as a third party thought leader pointing off in a future direction that Oracle itself could not for various reasons. Nelson’s direction and his talk cemented one of the key elements of cloud computing for large enterprises contemplating — what to do about the growth of increasingly expensive and hard to maintain ERP systems. In an era where data and decision-making are continuously being pushed down the chain of command conventional on premise ERP has a flexibility problem and that was the subject of Nelson’s talk.
For at least the last year various vendors have been talking about their two tier strategies in which they provide a second layer of ERP support or they cooperate with other vendors to do so. Nelson used his time to describe the advantages of using a product like NetSuite in a variety of ways that demanded a second tier of ERP.
For instance, a large multi-national company might use a second tier of ERP systems to capture local or regional data, convert currencies and adhere to local regulations before rolling the results up to corporate in a more tidy bundle. The two tiers could in practice be all NetSuite but Nelson’s point was to also support heterogeneous environments in which Oracle or SAP might be the corporate standard.
Finally, an question that is on lots of minds during a merger, acquisition or sale of a division is what to do about the financials. I have to confess that this is not top of mind for me but I can understand how it can be for the principals. Nelson’s point is that his product, by virtue of its cloud residency, can spin up a company very quickly and enable the separation or merger as the case may be.
The two tier strategy is a happening thing and I expect that we will hear more about it over time and not just from ERP vendors. Much the same argument could be made for front office conversions. As multiple conventional CRM systems begin to age out we might see SaaS CRM vendors trying to ease the transition for their own products.
Finally, two tier provides other benefits to companies such as limiting the growth of conventional ERP and initiating a transition that will move some to the cloud eventually and away from big ERP systems. That’s what Oracle can’t say on its own because as much as it would like to surround SAP systems with NetSuite and eventually convert them, it would not like to see the same thing happen with, say, Microsoft ERP surrounding and ultimately ejecting Oracle from an account. NetSuite has an inside track right now because it runs a complete Oracle stack which will make conversion easier while keeping it all in the family.
Zach Nelson’s talk was a success. He presented an appealing vision of ERP in the cloud and for that I think it’s a lock that he’ll be invited back.
I’ve been at OpenWorld for two days as I file this but so far, I have little CRM oriented material. CRM really kicks in on Wednesday when the company focuses on CX or customer experience the moniker that Oracle has given to much of its CRM focus.
CX is good for what Oracle is about and some of the announcements about private cloud and high capacity storage fit well with the message. For the record, CX was a RightNow term that Oracle adopted when it bought the company last year for a cool 1.5 giga-bucks. Add to this about five other acquisitions including ATG, the ecommerce company, and some web analytics and all of a sudden Oracle became a potential Cloud and social powerhouse.
I say potential because it all needs to be hooked up into a coherent and consistent whole. That will happen, but it is a rather large undertaking. At any rate, Wednesday – the day you will read this – is when all will be revealed and I am very interested.
That’s not to say that there isn’t any news to discuss that’s relevant to our corner of the world. Front office has been in upheaval lately with the social and mobile revolution and it’s all driven by the cloud and here Oracle has stepped up smartly.
In the Sunday keynote, CEO Larry Ellison introduced the Oracle Private Cloud and some very interesting hardware to run it. I had previously said that I expected the company to turn its technology bonanza to the cloud and much of what I expected did happen though in ways that were slightly different from my original take. Nonetheless, the announced private cloud is a good idea and will sell well, I think.
Private cloud (PC) is built on Exadata X3 a new storage machine from Sun that sports 26 TB, yup, that’s terabytes, and it’s all silicon memory and very fast. There are spindles in the box but we aren’t counting them. That’s 26 TB of amazingly fast data, which is also compressed so the 26 TB is more like 100 TB. It definitely tips the huge-o-meter and the fast-o-meter into the red zone.
PC is also based on Oracle 12c a new version of the Oracle database built expressly for the cloud (that’s the c). The new DB has some nifty capabilities which enable it to nest databases within databases – can’t find my notes but it has a name. This nesting looks suspiciously like multitenancy to me but one big difference is that if you run only your own data in it, your data is not co-mingling with anyone else’s data. That will appeal to certain industries that are prohibited from co-mingling data – like banks – by regulators. I’ve never figured out why banks can co-mingle money but not data. Both are overlaid with a layer of metadata to keep them separate, but I digress.
So, it seems like Oracle wants to be in the infrastructure business providing computing power for a price. The company offers traditional on-premise, cloud and hybrid (the rose wine of computing?).
In truth, there will be a great deal of hybridizing over the next few years as some enterprises finally take their first tentative steps to the heavens (I mean cloud) and I think this is very good.
The Oracle private cloud and 12c finally provide a solution to the problems that have bedeviled some IT executives. They offer an elegant solution for moving to the cloud even if they are in some ways compromises. More importantly there is no going back to the data center once you are in the cloud and over time enterprises will be able to take greater advantage of what the cloud offers.
Most significant to me is the sustainability angle that all this provides and which everyone is avoiding discussing. It’s like everyone is whistling past the energy graveyard. Truth be told, data centers in the sky suck up giga-watts for running things and cooling them.
They cause big pollution as I referenced in a previous post. Much of the problem comes from under utilizing gear that has to run to keep the peas from touching the mashers on the plate – keep everyone’s data from mingling. Translation, there are many separate databases on separate and under utilized blades and spindles. Oracle PC and 12c start to eliminate the problem by providing ways to increase utilization, reduce the number of devices running and thus cut the energy bill. Not bad.
We’ve reached a tipping point where IT services are becoming more important to our lives for social and mobile computing needs but we’re also approaching limits imposed by power consumption and pollution and that’s where the private cloud can begin showing savings.
All this technology will, I think, help us raise our sights from 3 or 4 9’s of availability to something more like the 7 to 9 9’s we need for IT services to become a true utility. I’ll have more to post about when I get more information from the CX Summit. For now, it seems to me that after a slow start in cloud computing Oracle is trying to gain prominence and some of the company’s ideas will help get it there.
I honestly thought I was going to have to wait longer to hear anyone from Oracle talk about seriously focusing the company’s hardware and software lines on the Cloud. True, they’ve been saying cloud-like things for a couple of years but the pronouncements were features and functions that added something to the cloud discussion without going “all in” as some others in the industry have said. But last night CEO Larry Ellison did what I’d forecasted last week in a way that is uniquely Oracle but nevertheless a good, defensible (and somewhat debatable) position.
Here’s what I said last week in my forecast,
It seems this family of hardware (Exa-hardware) is built and optimized for very big jobs involving terabytes of data and gazillions of users. That’s exactly the kind of stuff the growing cloud computing movement might gobble up. Currently data centers are masses of commodity servers in racks running feverishly but without a layer of sophisticated management that would optimize their utilization and reduce costs…
The next logical step would be to endorse the Exa-hardware as a sustainability tool for a power hungry planet. I’m looking for some sustainability messaging from Oracle and it could even happen…
Sustainability is not alien to ideas like mobility, cloud, social and analytics, you can’t separate them. I think if Oracle wants to maintain its leadership position with many of the largest companies in the world, it needs to put a stake in the ground and become a thought leader here…
So last night, Ellison took aim at the cloud and announced Oracle 12c a database for the cloud that supports multitenancy, if you want it, and he announced the Oracle Private Cloud running on Exa-hardware and delivered as a tight bundle to customers who want to get to the cloud, simplify their lives, and not fret about managing all that stuff. He also announced Exadata 3, which can hold up to 26 TB of data – “All your databases.” The cool thing about Exadata 3 is that the 26 TB is all silicone based memory, it doesn’t count the spindles that are rapidly becoming secondary in a high performance enterprise environment.
He made some traditional arguments about the cloud being more efficient and economic and at some points came close to claiming credit for inventing it. Truth is he did have a hand in inventing modern cloud computing as a very early investor in Salesforce and NetSuite and as the Zen master for Benioff and Nelson. But his skin in the game had been relatively minimal.
Now, while there is plenty to like from a sustainability perspective, it should be acknowledged that what got announced is a bunch of half steps designed to get enterprise data centers into the cloud without much disruption. I think this means that Oracle, for the moment (which will be about a decade) will not be aggressively selling the virtualization that comes with multitenancy and as a result there will still be a great deal of wasted power and underutilization in some cloud data centers.
But in a decade we could see a switch flip and everyone will get religion about power consumption and pollution and the switch to virtualization will happen very quickly because some very large companies will have been prepositioned for the change.
Actually a decade might be a long time and 6 or 7 years might be more like it simply because Oracle has many competitors going to the cloud, most notably Salesforce, and that will accelerate the timetable.
The next step, which has to come this week, will be for the company to shift gears to software – cloud based software – that makes the cloud even more attractive. Look for this to happen especially in the CX Summit or whatever they are calling it, on Wednesday. That will be the day that Anthony Lye talks a lot about how the companies he bought last year – like RightNow and ATG and others – are making the Oracle cloud a serious competitor.
Achilles’ heel is still Fusion. What’s up with Fusion?
Finally, many, if not most of the big cloud computing companies are running fault tolerant data centers using conventional racks of blade servers and disks. That’s giving us 3 to 4 9’s of reliability but I think before we can hope to get to the 7 to 9 9’s that will make cloud truly ubiquitous and universal utility grade computing we’re going to need some re-architecting. Regardless of what you might think of Oracle’s approach to the cloud, the hardware is an appealing approach for that alone.
Oracle likes to message that 20 out of 20 of the top banks/pharmaceutical companies/whatever, use Oracle and it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re going for 10 of the 10 biggest cloud companies. That will take some work and given the multiple levels of competitiveness and lack of love between the players, that might take even more than a decade to happen.