Will Oracle become a key cloud player, and what will it mean to development & architecture community?

Phil Wilkins

June 14th, 2017

This sort of question and provoke some emotive reactions, and many technologists despite the stereotype can get pretty passionate about our views. So let me put my cards on the table. My first book as an author is about Oracle middleware (Implementing Oracle Integration Cloud). I am Oracle Ace Associate (soon to be full Ace) which is comparable to a Java Rockstar, Microsoft MVP or SAP Mentor. I work for Capgemini as a Senior Consultant as large SI we work with many vendors, so I need to able have a feel for all options, even though I specialise in Oracle now. Before I got involved with Oracle I worked with primarily Open Source technologies particularly JBoss and Fuse (before and after both where absorbed into RedHat) and I have technically reviewed a number of Open source books for Packt. So I should be able to provide a balanced argument. So onto the …

A lot has been said about Oracle’s CIO Larry Ellison and his position on cloud technologies. Most notably for rubbishing it 2008, which is ironic since those of us who remember the late 90s Oracle heavily committed to a concept called the Network Machine which could have led to a more cloud like ecosystem had the conditions been right.

The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we’ve redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do. ... The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women’s fashion. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?[1]

Since then we’ve seen a slow change.  The first cloud offerings we saw came in the form of Mobile Cloud Service which provided a Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS). At this time Oracle’s extensive programme to try and rationalize its portfolio and bring the best ideas and design together from Peoplesoft, E-Business Suite, Siebel to a single cohesive product portfolio started to show progress – Fusion applications. Fusion applications built with the WebLogic core and exploiting other investments provided the company with a product that had the potential to become cloud enabled. If that initiative hadn’t been started when it did then Oracle’s position may look very different.  But from a solid standardised container based product portfolio the transition to cloud has become a great deal easier, facilitated by the arrival of Oracle database 12c which provided the means to easily make the data storage at least multi-tenant. This combination gave Oracle its ability to then sell ERP modules as SaaS and meant that Oracle cloud start to think about competing with the SaaS darlings of SalesForce, NetSuite and Workday.

However,ERPs don’t live in isolation. Any organisation has to deal with its oddities, special needs, departmental solutions as well as those systems that are unique and differentiate companies form their competition. This has driven the need to provide the means to provide PaaS and IaaS. Not only that, Oracle themselves admitted making SaaS as cost effective as possible it needed to revise the infrastructure and software platform to maximise the application density. A lesson that Amazon with AWS has long understood from the outset and done well in realizing. It has also had the benefit of being a later starter, looked at what has and hasn’t worked, and used to its deep pockets to ensure it got the best skills to build the ideal answers by passing many of the mistakes and issues the pioneers had to go through. This brought us to the state a couple of years ago, where its core products had a cloud existence and Oracle where making headway winning new mid-market customers – after all Oracle ERP is seen as something of a Rolls Royce of ERPs, globally capable and well tested and now cost accessible to more of the mid-market.

So as an ERP vendor Oracle will continue to be a player, if there is a challenger, Oracle’s pockets are deep enough to buy the competition which is what happened with Netsuite.This maybe very interesting to enterprise architects who need to take off the shelf building blocks and provide the solid corporate foundation, but those of us who prefer to build, do something different not so exciting.

In the last few years we have seen a lot of talk about digital disruptors, the need for serious agility (as in the ability to change and react rather than the development ethos). To have this capability you need to be able build, radically change solutions quickly and yet still work with those core backbone accounting tasks.  To use a Gartner expression, we need to be bimodal[2], to innovate.  When applications packages change comparatively slowly (they need to be slow and steady, if you want to show that your accounting isn’t going to look like Enron[3] or Lehmann Brothers[4]).

With this growing need to drive innovation and change ever faster we have seen some significant changes in the way things tend to be done. In a way the need to innovate has impacted to the point that,you could almost say in the process of trying to disrupt existing businesses through IT we have achieved the disruption of software development. With the facilitation of the cloud particularly IaaS, the low cost of startupandtry new solutions and either grow them if they succeed or mothball them with minimal capital loss or delay if they don't; we have seen …

  • The pace of service adoption accelerate exponentially meaning the rate of scale up and dynamic demand particularly for end user facing services has needed new techniques for scaling.
  • Standards moving away from being formulated by committee of companies wanting to influence/dominate a market segment which while resulted in some great ideas (UDDI as a concept was fabulous) but often very unwieldy (ebXML, SOAP, UDDI for example) to simpler standards that have largely evolved through simplicity and quickly recognized value (JSON, REST) to become de-facto standards.
  • New development paradigms that enable large solutions to be delivered whilst still keeping delivery on short cycles and supporting organic change (Agile, microservices).
  • Continuous Integration and DevOps breaking down organisational structures and driving accountability – you build it, you make it run.
  • The open source business model as a way to break into the industry with a new software technologywithout needing deep pockets for marketing etc has become the predominant. route in, and at the same time acceptance that open source software can be as well supported as a closed source product.

For a long time, despite Oracle being the ‘guardian’ for Java and then a little more recently MySQL they haven't really managed to establish themselves as a ‘cool’ vendor. If you wanted, a cool vendor you’d historically probably look at RedHat one of the first businesses to really get open source and community thinking. The perception at least has been Oracle have acquired these technologies either as a biproduct of a bigger game or as a view as creating an ‘on ramp’ to their bigger more profitable products.

Oracle have started to recognise that to be seriously successful in the cloud like AWS you need to be pretty pervasive and not only connect with the top of the decision tree but also those at the code face. To do that you need a bit of the ‘cool’ factor. That means doing things beyond just the database and your core middleware. These areas are becoming more and more frequently being subject to potential disruption such as Hadoop and big data, NoSQL and things like Kafka in the middleware space. This also fits with the narrative that do do well with SaaS you at least a very good IaaS and the way Oracle has approached SaaS you definitely need good PaaS. So they might as well also make these commercial offerings.

This has resulted in Oracle moving from half dozen cloud offerings to something in the order of nearly forty offerings classified as PaaS. Plus a range of IaaS offerings that will appeal to developers and architects such as direct support for Docker through to Container Cloud which provides a simplified Docker model, and onto Kafka, Node.js, MySQL, NoSQL and others. The web tier is pretty interesting with JET which is an enterprise hardened certified version of Angular, React and Express with extra tooling which has been made available as open source. So the technology options are becoming a lot more interesting.

Oracle are also starting to target new startups and looking to get new organisations onto the Oracle platform from day one, in the same way it is easy for a startup to leverage AWS. Oracle have made some commitment to the Java developer community though JavaOne which runs alongside the big brother conference of Open World. They are now seriously trying to reach out to the hardcore development community (not just Java as the new Oracle cloud offerings are definitely polyglot) through Oracle Code. I was fortunate enough to present at the London occurrence of the event (see my blog here). What Oracle has not yet quiet reached the point of being clearly easy to start working with compared to AWSand Azure. Yes, Oracle provide new sign ups with 300 dollars of credit but when you have a reputation (deserved or otherwise) of being expensive it isn't going to necessarily get people onboard in droves – say compared to AWS’s free micro-instance for a year.

Conclusion 

In all of this, I am of the view that Oracle are making headway, they are recognising what needs to be done to be a player; I have said in the past, and I believe it is still true – Oracle is a like an oil tanker or aircraft carrier, takes time to decide to turn, and turning isn't quick, but once a coarse is set a real head of stream and momentum will be built, and I wouldn't want to be in the company’s path.so let’s look at some hard facts – Oracle’s revenues remain pretty steady, surprisingly Oracle showed up in the last week on LinkedIn’s top employers list[5].

Oracle isn’t going to just disappear, it's Database business alone will keep it alive for a very long time to come. Its SaaS business appears to be on a good trajectory although more work on API enablement needs to take place. As an IaaS andPaaS technology provider Oracle appear to be getting a handle on things. Oracle is going to be attractive to end user executives as it is one of the very few vendors that covers all tiers of cloud from IaaS to PaaS providing the benefits of traditional hosting when needed and fully managed solutions and the benefits it offers.Oracle does still need to overcome some perception challenges, in many respects Oracle are seen in the same way Microsoft were in 90s and 2000s, something as a necessary evil and can be expensive.

[1]http://www.businessinsider.com/best-larry-ellison-quotes-2013-4?op=1&IR=T/#oud-computing-maybe-im-an-idiot-but-i-have-no-idea-what-anyone-is-talking-about-1

[2]http://www.gartner.com/it-glossary/bimodal/

[3]http://www.investopedia.com/updates/enron-scandal-summary/

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bankruptcy_of_Lehman_Brothers

[5]https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/linkedin-top-companies-2017-where-us-wants-work-now-daniel-roth