If you’re on stage espousing the power of automation technologies in a keynote presentation, there are two ways you can respond to the failure of your slide clicker at a critical moment. You can get annoyed. Or you can get annoyed, but turn it to your advantage.
Oracle CTO Larry Ellison took the second option during his opening keynote at Oracle Open World in San Francisco last night after his clicker packed up during his talk to the faithful.
At which point, he revealed that in fact the clicker was only used to prompt a human being somewhere in the bowels of the Moscone Center to move the slide deck on on Ellison's behalf.
Yes, in an era of Fake News, this was, he informed delegates, Fake Automation:
All my button does is notify a human being. It's really not automation at all. It's Fake Automation. If it was real automation, that would not have happened.
It was a good recovery and a nice line, one that was apposite since the thrust of Ellison’s first keynote at this year’s Oracle-fest was the power of automation and a rallying cry against the need for “human intervention”, arguing:
If you eliminate human labor, you eliminate human error.
On the face of it, that sounds a tad chilling, but it was all part of the pitch around what the Oracle founder had previewed as the “self-driving database”. That's more formally known as Oracle 18C Automated Database, which will, he claimed, be “the world’s first and only automated database” upon its release in December.
To back up the ‘automation is best’ mantra, Ellison turned first to an example close to home:
It’s embarrassing for me to admit it, but my auto pilot flies my plane much better than I do.
A more wide-reaching exemplar, given the current geo-political global climate, came from the realms of cyber-security. Ellison said:
In cyber-warfare, it’s our computers versus their [the bad guys’] computers. That’s why we are doing everything we possibly can to eliminate human intervention. The key to winning in cyber-warfare is to catch an attack at the reconnaissance stage, when someone is nosing around your system to steal your data. If it’s a commercial actor, they can sell your data to the Dark Web. If it’s a state actor, who knows what they can do. Your database system has to immediately patch itself the moment a threat is detected.
A ‘self-driving’ database would also have potentially prevented the recent Equifax data breach, said Ellison, as the system would have automatically installed an Apache Foundation patch that had been released, but wasn’t deployed by Equifax’s IT team:
The worst data thefts in history have occurred after a patch was available to prevent a theft. The database system has to be able to immediately patch itself, automatically patch itself, not wait for a human being to schedule downtime where there's an opportunity to implement a patch in a month or two, by the way which normally happens. To apply a patch typically you have to bring your systems down - nobody likes to bring their systems down. There’s a lot of approvals up and down that need to occur. That doesn't work. Didn't work at Equifax, didn't work at the Office of Personnel Management - doesn't work.
It was a false economy for Equifax and one that’s cost it dearly, he added:
How many cents did it costs Equifax to not do an online patch? What if a human being just misses a patch, what's the cost of that? There was a patch available for Equifax [but] somebody didn't apply it. It's a clean sweep. Directors aren't safe. Nobody’s safe when something like that happens. People are going to get better at stealing data and we have to get a lot better at protecting it.
While the majority of enterprise customers in the audience will hope that a disaster on the Equifax scale never happens on their watch, a more everyday driver for database admins in the audience came with the boast that 18C does not need a human being to schedule downtime and maintenance:
In fact the 18C needs less than 30 minutes a year of planned downtime. This is a big deal; no one else does it.
Amazon and contracts
"No-one else” of course led to the inevitable sabre-rattling in the direction of bête du jour, Amazon.
Oracle’s promising 99.995% reliability and availability, slightly less than Amazon’s 99.999% claims for its Redshift offering. But, said Ellison, that percentage includes exceptions, such as maintenance downtime and adding compute, that are not covered by the 99.999%. He urged the audience:
You guys really need to read Section 61 of your Amazon contract!..[Amazon’s] guarantee doesn’t count when you’re down for any reason. It doesn’t include downtime or maintenance, or patching, and certainly doesn’t cover downtime if there’s a bug.
That rather presumed that a healthy percentage of the Oracle audience are Amazon users, of course, which could be read as an interesting acknowledgement - or just a slip of the tongue?
Ellison followed this up by insisting that there is no fine print in an Oracle contract - a claim that will doubtless be subject to considerable competitive scrutiny and crossfire in the weeks and months to come - but that there will be one thing in the Oracle 18C paperwork for everyone:
We guarantee your Amazon bill is cut in half - and that will be in your contract…You get all of this stuff but you have to be willing to pay much less… It all costs a fraction of what Redshift costs.
Ellison took time to allude to the concerns that automation will eliminate jobs. In this case, if the database is administering itself, do the database admins do? Not an issue, said Ellison, it’s about an evolution of the role:
You’re automating away the job of database professionals. So we’ll see a migration of database skills to focus more on schema design, analytics and setting policies for what’s mission-critical. Database pros will have a lot more time to focus on securing data.
Database professionals are busy people. It’s not like they are sitting around looking for things to do!
A typically confident and robust start to the proceedings from the man himself. Most of what was said in the keynote has been said before or has been strongly alluded to in the months running up to OpenWorld, but hearing it from the mouth of Larry Ellison is part of the allure of the event and why 60,000 people are taking over the streets of San Francisco this week.
The Amazon-bashing is this year’s iteration of Salesforce-bashing, Siebel-bashing, Ingres-bashing etc etc that are part and parcel of the OpenWorld experience. The contractual claims are interesting however and inevitably make Oracle hostage to fortune in terms of customers, analysts and media looking out for reasons to pick holes in the claims. But having the bravado to make such boasts is archetypal Ellison.
Onwards - it’s going to be a busy week.