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Oracle and the cloud; past, present – and future?

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Larry Ellison, Oracle’s often outspoken head, was ridiculed by commentators a decade ago for being dismissive about the cloud. While the reaction wasn’t surprising, my reading of things was more along the lines that Ellison was irritated by the hype. Multi-platform, open source and open standards are a key part of the cloud. They are also hard-baked into what Oracle does as a supplier of enterprise grade software. From Ellison’s perspective, the cloud wasn’t revolutionary or new. It was an evolution and rebranding of the IT landscape Oracle has always known and helped to create.

Oracle has never been reticent when it comes to taking a swipe at the competition and Ellison’s team wasn’t slow to challenge the hype. Decisions about the cloud aren’t straightforward. It may be obvious now but it’s worth being reminded that if you migrate on-premises chaos to the cloud, you’ll end up with chaos in the cloud. To reap the benefits, systems need to be modernised and Oracle’s middleware and dev framework provided the cloud-ready PaaS components needed for this.

A decade ago, Oracle was already talking up the role of PaaS in building next generation applications and customising SaaS solutions. Ironically, their competitors were capturing market share by pushing less mature cloud offerings that were little more than IaaS platforms. Looking back, one can see why Oracle lagged behind in overall market share. Most IT departments embraced IaaS first to test the water and off-load non-critical applications. It took a good few years for the cloud to evolve into an enterprise-ready platform for cloud native applications based on containers and micro-services. PaaS is an essential part of this now and is very much woven into the fabric of IaaS.

From outset, Oracle predicted that hybrid would emerge as the dominant model, at least in the short term. Again, this may seem obvious now but it wasn’t talked about so much in the early days. For as long as I can remember, Oracle has always made a big thing about its flagship database editions sharing a common code base, allowing you to move from one platform to another with minimal fuss. This is precisely what’s needed for hybrid environments – the ability to push things back and forth in a seamless manner. There was no need to build hybrid capability into Oracle technology. It was already there, in some cases almost a decade before some of the competition.

Despite the maturity and breadth of its technology, the company has found it difficult to acquire an undisputed leadership position in the market. The picture is hazy because the various vendors use different definitions and measurements when reporting cloud revenue. Oracle is recognised among the leaders when it comes to enterprise SaaS and DBaaS but others have forged ahead with IaaS and PaaS. During the past decade, the competition has embraced open source and developed their PaaS layer to provide the fabric, dev and orchestration tools needed for the digital age.

That said, recent announcements from Oracle suggest the company has lost none of its determination to be a cloud leader albeit with sharpened priorities and focus. Oracle will concentrate on doing what it does well – supplying best of breed, innovative products for its customers. The other part of the equation is to build alliances to ensure these technologies are supported by the likes of Microsoft and Google IaaS platforms which will assist with adoption. Ellison may not have been thinking ‘multi-cloud’ when he predicted hybrid (on-premises and cloud) as the dominant model but it’s all part of the same mix-and-match story.

The cutting-edge cloud-based Oracle Database 19c is an example of the company’s technology leadership. It has many unique features which make it truly autonomous with built-in AI and machine learning to improve performance and security while eliminating management overheads. It is serverless in the sense that you only pay for compute resources as and when they’re being consumed. It runs on Oracle’s highly optimised Exadata hardware and Oracle Unbreakable Linux, with RAC for scalability and Active Data Guard for high availability. Currently cloud only, 19c will soon be available for on-premises deployment as part of Oracle’s popular ‘Cloud at Customer’ offering.

Oracle hasn’t thrown down the towel in the IaaS arena either. As technology leaders, they have re-thought the cloud with their gen 2 IaaS architecture. Built from the ground up to provide the highest levels of security, the infrastructure includes dedicated hardware to isolate cloud control code from user data and code. Oracle can’t see your code and you can’t see theirs! Machine learning ‘robotics’ monitor and destroy malicious code taking security to a new level. Coupled with the autonomous Database 19c, you have a complete stack of unbreakable technology for the data-tier.

Cost and security concerns are still frequently cited as the most common barriers to cloud adoption and Oracle appears to be tackling both with their latest strategies. It remains to be seen whether they can turn technology leadership into broader adoption to secure a greater share of the cloud market. For sometime, Ellison has been pitching Oracle Cloud against AWS with claims of technical superiority at a much reduced price – claims which Amazon rejects!

The vendor has recently announced a joint initiative with Microsoft to provide seamless cloud to cloud networking. Oracle and Microsoft Interconnected Clouds will facilitate access to the best of both worlds which is good for the two vendors and their customers. The other side of this story is that Oracle’s competitors haven’t stood still. Over the past few years, Microsoft has added numerous bells and whistles to their Azure IaaS platform, turning it into a powerful CI/CD DevOps solution with excellent support for open source. Microsoft has growing capability around AI, cognitive services etc and it is mutually beneficial for both vendors and their customers to have access to the best technologies for the job in hand.

Returning to Ellison’s comments a decade ago, I wonder when the term ‘cloud’ will disappear from the IT vocabulary. Proabably not as soon as Ellison would like, but it will one day. It’s just a question of time and the arrival of the next big thing in IT. Whatever that may be, you can rest assured Ellison will have something to say on the subject.

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