Last year uber-analyst Esteban Kolsky and I did a research project to better understand cloud computing’s uptake and related issues and last week Financial Force, our sponsor, made the results public. The findings are interesting to me because they reveal a more or less typical adoption cycle for cloud by which I mean that some of the downstream effects are only gradually becoming apparent.
One of the appealing parts of cloud computing, aside from its favorable cost model, is its consumerized packaging—people have the expectation (and rightly so) that they can get up and running with little fanfare and not much input from IT. Cloud has been a liberating force throughout business for this very reason. Back in the day, words that rolled off the tongue a little too easily were, “Our system won’t let us do that,” but that’s a thing of the past and cloud computing is responsible in large part for the shift.
What’s less obvious though, in a world where lunch is not free, is that the cloud comes with its own baggage too. We found that the vast majority of companies surveyed had many cloud apps and nearly half (46.3 percent) were using 4 or more. With this come some subtle issues. For instance, usually a cloud app doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it needs to be integrated and with lots of them it becomes something of a logistical challenge getting data to where it can do the most good. Also, each distinctly different app can come with a different cloud and tool set or at least user interface for maintenance.
This didn’t surprise me. For a long time, I’ve been articulating that the platform is the new competitive software battleground because it determines what works easiest with what. Platforms provide a degree of standardization for app builders in the same way that a motherboard imposes a set of standards on what can be plugged into it. To be clear, there are many ways to get apps to communicate but in many situations, when two apps have been built to the same platform standard, life is quite good.
Through this research I developed new empathy for the folks in IT for many reasons. Old IT was a reflection of the technology it supported. In the mainframe era it was bureaucratic, rigid, and limited and many people associated these attributes with the people of IT rather than their jobs. But in new IT, the people responsible for making cloud computing work are quite the opposite. IT has learned to team with line of business units, to be supportive of business initiatives, and to do what it takes to make the business successful. But therein lies a new issue.
It seemed to me that, at least in some cases, IT has been left to clean up after departments that go ahead with an implementation without necessarily accounting for the downstream eventualities that can cripple a project like integration and performance. Somehow this all comes back to platform too. One of the reasons for the proliferation of disparate clouds in some organizations is that no one considers the implication of having three clouds for three separate apps rather than one cloud in common among them. It’s no one’s job at the line of business level where many decisions are made and in these cases some businesses were slow to promote platform standards.
The result is that at the front end, the lines of business run well with their cloud systems but often that’s because the people in the engine room are working hard, or harder than necessary, to keep all the cloud balls in the air. So add a new job to IT’s growing list. The information technology department has developed some good partnerships with the lines of business and now it’s time to use some of that good will to help set up standards and to show the departments some best practices.
Other issues worth considering—there are more but you’ll need to download the report—include cost considerations and performance and to a great degree, they come down to platform too.
Briefly, you’d think the arrival of cloud computing would have banished concerns about cost but that’s not true any longer—if it ever was. Many organizations have capped IT spending, or nearly so, making it difficult to find thousands of dollars in a budget for new systems in order to save millions by replacing old systems. It’s crazy but true. So speed of implementation is one of those areas you don’t see advertised or even written about very often, but it is becoming a real concern, at least for cloud vendors looking to generate initial revenue from a customer. So, of course, platform is a big factor in deployment, especially for the time to deploy the next app on the platform.
Performance is right up there as a customer concern too and platform is important here as well but so is the speed of the Internet connection and the number of integrations running. While most of our study population had “more than four” cloud apps, it’s not unreasonable today to see companies with a dozen or two cloud systems running the business.
At some point every business will have to face the need to rationalize or refactor its cloud deployments—it’s a natural part of cloud’s success. This reconsideration should happen around your business’s platform strategy. If you don’t have a strategy it’s a good time to develop one.
If you are Oracle, one of the challenges of OpenWorld is trying to fit everything into just three days. The company has something like 3000 SKUs and it already splits the conference into multiple tracks and holds a conference within a conference for developers using Java. And of course, there are zillions of breakout sessions designed to drill down into the specifics. So it is making an attempt to do the right thing but I have doubts about whether or not it is providing an over-arching theme that might make it easier to communicate its message.
Hardware and software engineered to work together is the company’s tag line and while it’s pretty good, it is a vestige of an earlier era when companies sold gear and software and customers were worried. The vibe today, and the era that the company is rushing headlong into is the cloud and its children such as subscriptions. In a subscription world there’s zero discussion or how many licenses you want to buy and own in perpetuity. Rather, it’s all about subscribing and modifying the subscription as often as necessary to fit the customer’s need.
So the current tag line rings a bit false for all of that plus the sales 101 reason that it doesn’t end with a positive statement about what you can do with hardware and software engineered to work together. Providing the “so that you can” statement is becoming de rigueur for subscription companies and if Oracle is heading there it needs not only a more specific tag line but an approach to OOW that broadcasts that understanding.
I would like to suggest that Oracle begin by stating the obvious. The company has spent a boatload of cash (no pun, but hey) making the products that will make the subscription/cloud era hum and it’s time for it to take advantage with a so that you can statement. The database, Oracle 12c, is all in-memory and all about supporting many, many millions of simultaneous users and the new devices like M6-32 (no relation to C3PO) will form the cloud’s backbone. So why bury the lead?
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.
Dreamforce hasn’t even happened yet and I am already wishing it was about double the time it’s set up for. I’m arriving in San Francisco on Monday, two days before Marc Benioff’s keynote kicks everything off and I am already running late.
As has become customary, many Salesforce partners are holding user group meetings just before Dreamforce to keep their customers’ expenses down and have maximum impact on them. This is an unintended by-product and benefit of being in the ecosystem. To that end I’m attending Subscribed, the user meeting of Zuora, which would be worth the trip all on its own.
I have no more time for meetings and some of those on the calendar are looking dicey. There are too many parties, dinners and coffees to possibly make all of them and there is a full calendar of really good keynotes and other meetings for analysts to attend sponsored by Salesforce. Give me two more days!
Salesforce will be briefing me under NDA about the big news that will come out of the show so I can’t help you with anything semi-official other than to direct you to a piece by Chris Kanaracus in NetworkWorld.
According to statements made by CEO Marc Benioff, at TechCrunch on Tuesday, we can look for important announcements about a new service that’s like Dropbox, an identity management system, more information on the company’s integration with Workday and the company’s new Marketing Cloud.
That sounds like a full plate but curiously it doesn’t seem like enough. Back in 2004, Benioff had a George W. Bush impersonator walk on stage and disrupt the proceedings with a short speech to “this Fundraiser, Thanks Marc.” But that was because Dreamforce was held on election day if you can believe it.
This year I don’t look for the same kind of stunts because this year there is too much information to get across. Consider my schedule for Thursday — Sales Cloud Keynote, Work.com Keynote, Service Cloud Keynote, Chatter Keynote, Platform Keynote, Data.com Keynote, Marketing Keynote, SMB Keynote. And that’s just the MORNING! You don’t have a keynote without making an announcement of some kind so that’s why I think Benioff’s remarks at TechCrunch were useful but they’re just a teaser.
We could easily have two more days of this because unlike other shows where I could totally miss some ERP or other sessions that are not in my wheelhouse, everything at Dreamforce is relevant and important to cover. So it might sound strange with Dreamforce still in the future but I already want more, maybe not more information but more time to absorb it.
“Almost seven years of relentless engineering and innovation plus key strategic acquisitions. An investment of billions. We are now announcing the most comprehensive Cloud on the planet Earth,” said Oracle CEO, Larry Ellison. “Most cloud vendors only have niche assets. They don’t have platforms to extend. Oracle is the only vendor that offers a complete suite of modern, socially-enabled applications, all based on a standards-based platform.” Larry Ellison, CEO, Oracle
Mixing metaphors and technology yesterday Oracle chief, Larry Ellison further defined Oracle’s vision for cloud computing. Years? Billions? Me thinks the man protests too much.
It’s a sure sign that a competitor is coming from behind when he tells you that everything the competition’s been working on and inventing for over a decade has now been eclipsed. The billions and planets and years — not to mention the billions in acquisitions — might have been better spent in competition rather than mounting what amounts to, but no one said, a Manhattan Project to pull your bacon out of the fire because you left your business model to stagnate for too long.
I am a fan of some of the pieces of the Oracle cloud though I see yesterday’s announcement more as a set of checkboxes with “me too” written all over them than words like innovative, groundbreaking, out of the box and the like. Let’s take things in order.
I am a big fan of any infrastructure that can raise everyone’s game from however many 9’s of reliability they have at present, to AT LEAST 7. With seven 9’s you get something like a bit over 3 seconds of downtime per year and that, or better, is what it will take to get us all off the fairyland ideal of cloud to the more prosaic, pragmatic and utilitarian concept of utility computing. The vision has always been computing delivered like telephone, electricity, natural gas or water and those utilities have much better than seven 9’s but seven is where it starts to get interesting.
So, Oracle’s use of all of its Exa-themed Sun devices for infrastructure makes a lot of sense. There’s a good deal of reliability built into Exa but not necessarily enough to deliver the cloud vision unless you also talk about redundancy and failover. They’re expensive too.
The alternative that even an Exa-box supported cloud will need to contend with is a well managed multiple site redundant hardware infrastructure with failover capabilities. Other utility services have failover and IT should be no different. So the hardware is nice but is it cost competitive with the alternatives?
The rest of Oracle’s announcements, which I thought were repeats of earlier announcements, spanned from database services to sites to various developer, analytics, social networking and document sharing services. In short, all the stuff that Salesforce has been dripping into the market for many years.
But what’s missing is telling. The Oracle announcement, while impressive, still lacks vision. There’s no hint of a changing of the guard and no advice to customers that the world that will use these products is vastly different from the one where the previous generation of on-premise Oracle applications held sway for so many years. Instead the message seems to be, here’s our erector set that you can use to approximate the Salesforce.com environment that your users are increasingly asking for. This, plus a bolus of consulting dollars, will help you beat back the barbarians at the gate.
Again, there’s a lot of good stuff in Oracle’s announcement, Ellison’s hyperbole aside. But there’s a widening gap in the market that has nothing to do with technology per se. It’s between vendors that get it and those who are still just pushing product out the door in the hope that customers will figure it out. Real cloud, social and mobile companies are not pushing product.