Oracle is a big company and that point gets driven home when you start to go in-depth on their products. At a show like OpenWorld which is dedicated more or less to touching on every aspect of the business, you can quickly get out of your depth.
Since the opening keynote on Sunday the talk has been mainly around things that I know about but don’t cover. So I’ve learned about what’s new in the company’s computing hardware, operating systems, the subject of Big Data and the new SPARC T4 chip.
You have to expect that. As a database company first, something like Exadata — a storage machine for very large databases — is very important especially for large Oracle customers. Exadata is supposed to speed up data processing by orders of magnitude and enable users to compress it significantly reducing the number of disks needed and the electricity to drive and cool them. As I say, it’s important if you are a big company with significant IT issues, not the least of which is power consumption.
I can say the same about Exalogic a compute server that offers massive parallelism meaning multiple parts doing the same job within the box. Parallelism is important if you need to support hundreds of thousands or even millions of users on a website and need to ensure up time all the time. And Oracle just introduced Exalytic a machine that does for business intelligence what the others do for their respective IT fiefdoms.
So, it’s all definitely important but not exactly CRM — except for one small idea. All of the gear mentioned is necessary for taking the next step from cloud computing to a genuine form of utility computing. Think about your phone service or electric service or older services like water or natural gas. Those things just about never go out. True they can falter in a natural disaster but other than that outages are rather rare. The providers generally achieve seven to nine “9’s” of reliability (99.9999999 percent up time).
Do the math, it’s like a hiccup once a year. Now compare that with the three or four 9’s a cloud offering provides these days. Though still rare, outages are something that cloud computing still grapples with in part because many cloud vendors do not offer the kind of redundancy and massive parallelism that other utilities do. It’s not that the electric grid is perfect that keeps it up all the time, it’s massive parallelism. The same is true in almost any system upon which we’ve come to depend. In its Exa- hardware, Oracle is trying to provide that parallelism.
My point is that cloud computing is growing up and not a moment too soon. The amount of data they’re talking about at this show will soon be measured in zettabytes (1021) if my friends at IDC are right. It is a number that makes even the national debt look insignificant and it’s just on the horizon. What’s also on the horizon is whopping energy costs for data processing unless we find better ways to power and cool our machines and the Exa- family is certainly a way towards that.
Implicit in all this is the inexorable move toward cloud computing. This week I am seeing and hearing a lot about private, public and hybrid clouds and much of this will lead to more efficient processing that will make the zettabyte world realistic. Nonetheless I must say that some of what I hear — not just from Oracle but from partners like EMC2 too — seems a bit self-serving. Specifically, I must respectfully disagree with anyone who uses the term “private cloud” because it simply moves a data center from within a company’s walls to a vendor’s data center.
While the IT processing might be delivered through the Internet and the solution might shave off some computing costs, cloud computing is much more than moving the data center and continuing to run the same applications in the same old way. Hint: if your data center is moving to the cloud, shouldn’t some of your business processes too? Shouldn’t you be looking at reinventing your business processes as well as making them cheaper to run? Sometimes I worry that extracting cost out of IT this way will simply kick the business process question down the road and the processes will just ossify.
We’re embarking on a new computing era that will be powered by massively parallel machines yet we seem to behave as if we can simply take our heretofore terrestrial applications to the cloud — while it will work it won’t take advantage of all the opportunities the cloud offers.
Now’s the time to rethink the ways we do business and the applications we do business with. The result of that thinking should be a set of programs in every company designed to move into the new era of business — one that gets closer to the customer and, by the way, the remote employee or contractor. Granted, that’s a big job but so far it’s the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room. No one is talking about it. New languages, new tools and approaches are being rolled out as if they’re simply nice to have. Not so, they’re necessary.
It would be better if there was more recognition of the imperatives of the era we’re embarking on, because it might provide a better frame for the discussions we’re having around all the shiny new objects.
In case you are having trouble getting your head around some unfamiliar terms for very large numbers coming out of Oracle OpenWorld this week, I wish to provide some assistance. The large numbers reference the amount of data we collectively and even individually capture and need to store to live our lives and do our jobs. They make it possible for us to see important things like cats behaving strangely on YouTube.
We are all fairly familiar with millions, billions and trillions. Governments these days have spent millions, borrowed billions and we collectively owe trillions. From this you probably already know that one trillion is a 1 with 12 zeroes after it and it looks like this: 1,000,000,000,000.
In the world of large numbers this barely gets the attention of the experts who typically write it in scientific notation as 1012. By the way, a trillion bytes of data is expressed as a terabyte and while that was once considered huge, you can buy a device that stores a terabyte, sits comfortably on your desk and looks about the size of a pocket dictionary.
Social media and video are two phenomena that generate scads of data and drive a need for mega storage, or actually zetta storage for which Oracle has this nifty device called Exadata. The world will need many of these and Oracle shareholders will be pleased about this.
Next stop is a petabyte, (1015 ) then Exabyte (1018) and only then do we get to (1021) or the zetabyte. Don’t worry the Greeks and Romans had lots of words that can be turned to numeric prefixes and there is no danger of us running out though next in line, the yottabyte (1024) sounds more like something out of Seinfeld.
Perhaps at some future OpenWorld we’ll hear Larry Ellison say, “yadda, yadda, yadda” and we’ll all know precisely what that means.
A lot went down at Oracle Open World and you are probably as tired of reading about it as I am of writing about it. Some very good reporting and analysis has come out of it all and you can easily find it on line if you wish. I was impressed with several things that Oracle did including making strides in sales and marketing software and in introducing two new lines of compute servers.
First off, the company said it was beefing up its marketing software because too many customers were looking elsewhere for marketing solutions. This is generally in line with its acquisition of Market2Lead in May. Until now, marketing has remained a place where independent software developers could plant a flag and pretty much be left alone by the big guys. They were too busy making sales and service suites.
Then too, marketing has always been a suite in itself. You don’t build marketing the way you build sales for instance. There are many more moving parts in marketing for campaigns, for lead generation, for market intelligence and for social media inputs. No doubt about it, marketing is a big deal and when a major vendor like Oracle says it’s putting its focus on it, it is remarkable. Marketing also represents relative white space for Oracle, which makes it doubly interesting.
It’s early days as far as I am concerned with Oracle’s marketing solution. It’s even a challenge defining what is included. For instance, Oracle’s very fine loyalty application — marketing or service or sales? Ditto territory planning and white space analysis — sales or marketing?
I know what you might be thinking: some of these are clearly not marketing. But hold on, they aren’t marketing today, maybe, but what happens with the economy in the next couple of years will seriously change the CRM suite. Consider one thing: suppose demand remains sluggish in the sense that we’re not in recession but neither are we in a robust recovery.
Under these conditions many companies double down on their existing customers which changes the sales dynamic and necessarily the underpinnings for what software solutions need to do. My reading of Oracle Open World is that the company is hedging its bets and building products that can prosper in the slow growth scenario.
But the most interesting part of the show for me was observing the transition of Oracle from cloud skeptic to cloud believer. As with any religious conversion, the newly believing are, shall we say, an acquired taste. A year ago, CEO Larry Ellison questioned the need for the designation but this year he had cloud religion. Of course religious beliefs span a spectrum and the Oracle version of cloud computing can best be described as Amazon EC2 Reformed.
Simply put, Oracle’s approach is infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Nothing wrong with that but it brings to mind something Ellison said a year ago, paraphrasing now, cloud computing isn’t new, it’s what we’ve always done. Certainly IaaS is what we’ve been doing or what’s been done before. It consists of selling compute time and storage made available on the Internet with a side order of your favorite licensed software. Nothing wrong with that either except for Oracle’s other big announcement of Exalogic, a beast of a fault tolerant computer that Ellison referred to as a cloud in a box. Rule One of selling is to sell what you’ve got and Ellison certainly did that is his conception of “Hardware. Software. Complete.”
Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com and advocate of cloud computing as a transformative innovation that he calls Cloud 2, sold what he has too. Benioff gave a keynote extolling the virtues of all things Cloud 2 including multi-tenancy and Chatter, a new category of collaborative tool that leverages crowd wisdom to enhance company performance.
In the process, Ellison and Benioff each used their keynotes to one-up the other while advocating for their favorite definitions of cloud computing. I have to say it was entertaining and a bit silly. The publicity heat given off by the back and forth gave each company free coverage but did little to settle the argument.
It is an argument that will rage for a long time because the market actually needs both forms of cloud computing. For big companies with deep investments in software licenses, the Oracle cloud is a good way to lower the overhead incurred with running a data center. Lower those costs and you’ve made computing more affordable and the details about how you achieved the results is almost immaterial — until you need something new.
The Salesforce idea of cloud computing better fits the needs of any company looking to build net new solutions or to take advantage of new applications from other vendors and new application types. A company is less likely to convert its Oracle general ledger to Salesforce but many are very open minded about moving to the Salesforce cloud for net new and new category applications like Chatter. I didn’t hear any talk about the Oracle development platform because that’s Fusion and it won’t be generally available until next year. When it becomes available things could change.
I have seen Unix computers running converted mainframe applications complete with green screens and I see no reason why the Oracle cloud won’t look like that — i.e. a place for legacy applications — in the future. It’s a huge market and for a long time I expect to see both forms of cloud computing to co-exist and flourish. But eventually, the Oracle form of cloud computing will need to bend to the inevitable and begin to resemble Salesforce in the multi-tenant aspect.
So my big take-away from Open World? As always it’s an industry in transition and the number and kind of solutions are huge. Oracle is doing some neat things at the application level and protecting its flank where needed. All told, it was illuminating and fun.