If you weren't paying attention, you might conclude that this week's Oracle OpenWorld conference was an empty parade of competitor-baiting and bandwagon-jumping with no real substance at all. Skim the OOW17 headlines, and you'll see that founder and CTO Larry Ellison took potshots at Amazon Web Services and Splunk, while the company announced AI and blockchain initiatives.
You have to dig deeper to uncover the really significant developments at Oracle that were on show this week. Looking back, I can count seven phenomena that I consider to be really big deals, or BFDs in the vernacular. In case you missed it, here they are.
1. Industrialization of the database
Ellison's price comparisons with Amazon Web Services made sure that Oracle's new autonomous database attracted plenty of media attention. But the BFD about Oracle 18c is not the purported price savings. It is the automation of all the patching, upgrading, tuning and monitoring that has always had to be done manually in the past. As Denis Pombriant wrote earlier this week, this turns the Oracle database into an industrial utility. This industrialization of the world's leading transactional database will accelerate the migration of mainstream enterprise IT into the cloud. That's a BFD.
2. Cloud-first enterprise applications
For a long time, Oracle was a laggard in transitioning its portfolio of enterprise applications for the cloud. This was a complicated process, in part because of a legacy of acquisitions which meant that there were many different applications and data models to contend with, along with several missteps and delays in the development of its Fusion cloud applications platform. In the end, it has had to build a completely new set of cloud applications. Inevitably that has taken some time, but the journey is pretty much complete now in the latest release 13 of the suite.
The latest version of Oracle Cloud HCM shows how far Oracle has come. An all-new recruitment solution adds the final missing piece for which customers previously had to bolt on the acquired Taleo product. It now covers a full range of HCM capabilities and has a consistent, modern user experience across all modules and with other Oracle Cloud applications. There's a similar story in ERP/EPM and SCM. Even the CX customer engagement suite, which is made up of several different acquisitions, including Siebel, RightNow and Eloqua, is now on a single platform.
Why is this a BFD? Oracle's cloud applications have now converged around a platform that allows them to share the benefit of underlying innovations and to release new functions and capabilities several times a year. The products can now advance at cloud speed, and customers can therefore have confidence that they'll keep pace with their rapidly changing needs.
One more thing. Those underlying innovations include the autonomous database. Once Oracle 18c is available in its transactional OLTP version sometime next year, it will become part of the Oracle Cloud application infrastructure within months or weeks. It will mean less scheduled downtime for customers, while Oracle will be able to meet its SLA obligations at a much lower cost of operation.
3. Automating ITSM
There was a BFD lurking underneath Larry Ellison's Tuesday afternoon keynote, during which he presented what he called the Cyber Defense System. That is a made-up name designed to grab attention. Oracle knows very well that fear creates a powerful buying incentive, and has realized that the C-suite now knows data security is an important risk factor in IT.
The actual name of the Cyber Defense System is more prosaic. It's the Oracle Management Cloud, working in tandem with the Oracle Identity Security Operations Center (SOC). Not quite so sexy. But here's the thing.
These systems are applying machine learning in real-time to detect anomalies in system logs. That can be used not only for security reasons but also to monitor performance and system health. Oracle is going after the whole segment. Ellison said as much:
We understand the topology of our systems. That's going to allow us to do a much better job of detecting problems. The same exact system is used for performance management. But the most important job I think is data theft prevention, so that's what I'm focusing on.
4. Going serverless
Obscured by the fury surrounding Ellison's pricing claims against AWS were some important extensions to Oracle's cloud offering. Another reason why you may have missed it is that it's quite technical. The Next Platform has a good overview if you want more detail, but in essence Oracle has introduced a container orchestration service and a serverless function platform to its cloud.
This is a BFD because it gives Oracle capabilities that are already popular on AWS and Azure and it will grab the attention of developers. The container service works with technology Oracle acquired when it bought Wercker earlier this year and The Next Platform's verdict is:
With the combination of Kubernetes, Wercker, and Docker Registry, the Oracle Cloud has a next-gen application development and deployment platform akin to Red Hat OpenShift or VMware Cloud Foundry.
The Oracle serverless platform, called Fn, has been created by a team of serverless pioneers, will be open sourced via Apache, and is compatible with Amazon's own serverless platform, AWS Lambda. If you want to learn more about serverless, here's a primer.
5. Purposeful AI
Late in August, we got a pointer to how Oracle wants to make AI useful when it announced a new set of IoT applications focused on business outcomes. This week saw many more examples of AI (or more precisely, machine learning) applied in a business context, including personalization, recruitment and supply chain.
Oracle bringing together the three necessary ingredients for AI to produce meaningful outcomes is the BFD here. One is lots of data — its customers have plenty of that, which Oracle can supplement with third party data from its own Data Cloud service. The second is lots of processing power, which Oracle has provisioned in its data centers, designed specifically for machine learning. The third is effective algorithms working within a highly constrained set of parameters for which they can identify patterns.
6. Getting into conversational
Oracle is also applying AI within the user experience, in particular in the use of chatbots to support interaction with applications via messaging. I've recently written about the sudden rise of conversational computing and how it's a BFD for the future of enterprise applications. By including intelligent chatbot capabilities into its mobile experience, and linking to voice assistants as well as popular messaging clients including Slack, Skype and Facebook Messenger, Oracle is making sure it keeps abreast of this trend.
7. Blockchain for the masses
It would be easy to dismiss Oracle's blockchain announcement as jumping on a bandwagon if it weren't for two things. First of all, Oracle seems to be focused on practical applications of blockchain, in the same vein as its work with AI. Secondly, it's explicitly extending its blockchain service to NetSuite customers too. This suggests to me that Oracle is keen to explore the practical application of blockchain in the supply chain, and wants to cast its net as wide as possible so that it can get some meaningful trials started. If blockchain can be proven as a simple, secure way to share information in the supply chain, that would certainly be a BFD.