Today Oracle announced that it would bring the benefits of its autonomous database technology to its Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering this fiscal year. My colleague, Phil Wainewright has all the details on how Oracle is providing self-driving, self-securing and self-repairing services to the Oracle Cloud Platform. I’d like to discuss the announcement in the context of the information utility I see forming.
What caught my eye in an early draft of the release was this:
Oracle is setting a new industry standard for autonomous cloud capabilities. Oracle is applying AI and machine learning to its entire next-generation Cloud Platform services to help customers lower cost, reduce risk, accelerate innovation, and make smarter decisions.
You expect this kind of language from a vendor but in this case there’s important meaning in the words. I believe this is a first salvo in a new competition for primacy in the information utility market.
Utilities form whenever a disruptive innovation becomes ubiquitous, the costs of providing it are high, and market forces reduce competition. Also, bringing costs per consumer down requires the largest possible market and there’s nothing in any market that’s bigger than the whole enchilada. But if not managed well the result is a monopoly or small oligopoly in which the remaining few vendors own the marketplace and control prices.
We can see this happening in global cable markets. In the US the remaining few vendors have bought up their competition and own large contiguous regional markets. Class action suits are not always effective at protecting consumers as Susan Crawford points out in her excellent book about the cable industry, Captive Audience.
Utilities have a long history
Railroads and steamships were, perhaps, the first utilities. Radio, TV, natural gas, water, and electricity are all examples too. All of them provision vital modern services at fair prices. They operate in public space as regulated monopolies through license granted by the consent of society. Regulations ensure that no one can charge exorbitantly for their services and the regulators impose a common carrier mandate to ensure that any citizen who wants a service can get it by paying a common rate.
Information services might be the next utility on the horizon. So far individual businesses provision information services for themselves through internal IT organizations but thanks to the Internet Revolution this now also includes purchasing services on the cloud. The cloud is the proto-utility analogous to a big business such as Ford, generating its own electricity at the end of the 19th century.
Becoming utility grade means several things. First, a utility cannot go down. We’ve seen electric utilities fail causing much dislocation but it’s rare. The phone system doesn’t go down. Similarly, gas and water are always on except when an area literally runs out of water and there is pandemonium. This only emphasizes the essential nature of a modern utility. Fifty years from now no one will seriously ponder information being unavailable and perhaps that will happen much sooner.
Today’s Oracle announcements make the next down-payment on enabling the always-on feature of an information utility. With self-driving, self-securing, and self-repair services the company brings itself closer to the ability to support its customers’ utility grade needs of the future and to me that’s the big news embedded in what would otherwise be a rather prosaic news release.
12 new Oracle data centers
Oracle also announced it would deploy 12 new data centers around the world to support its regional vision of ubiquitous cloud computing for its customers. The regions include China, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Amsterdam, Switzerland, two in Canada and two more in the US. Taken together this is more proof that Oracle is on a mission to deploy an information utility. It will necessarily require integration capabilities with other clouds which will only deepen the global utility’s reach.
You might say that’s fine for Oracle customers but the world is full of information providers that are not Oracle. Fine. The other thing about utilities is that they provide a monolithic appearance because they are comprised of many independent vendors offering a standardized product that adheres to standards. For instance, every electric utility in North America provides 120 volt power at 60 Hz. European countries have different standards which is fine on a national level. But anywhere you take an appliance within a utility’s service area you have full expectation that it will work when it’s plugged in.
Information utilities are gearing up in the same way. Standards like relational databases and TCP/IP are standards. Browsers are virtually standardized and there are numerous languages that span architectures like Java, C, SQL, and many others. Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, Salesforce, SAP and other large vendors already adhere to the standards and are building infrastructures populating cloud data centers around the world.
At least some of the information utility’s biggest pieces are in place or nearly so. But what’s lagging has been the tooling to keep a utility operating in an always-on mode. As Oracle has previously shown achieving that feat will require a combination of hardware and software and few if any of the other players have both in sufficient quantity. By being first to offer self-driving, self-securing and self-repairing services, Oracle and its partners and customers have a natural advantage for setting standards and compelling compatibility.
A few months ago there was a story going around that some large vendors like Amazon AWS, Salesforce and others were toying with the idea of moving away from Oracle’s database using in-house developed solutions. That was always going to be a heavy lift and now it’s become more difficult.
Image credit - Business woman with big ruler, cloudy sky © adam121 - Fotolia.com
Disclosure - Oracle and Salesforce are diginomica premier partners at time of writing