The last year or so have not been easy for Oracle. While the company continues the hard push of its autonomous database, the facts of life are that the message is proving difficult to get across to a market where Amazon Web Services rule and where Oracle-related news has rarely been positive. Will Oracle OpenWorld 2018 change that perception?
The answer to that question comes down to two presentations, supported by customer-related content. The presentations I am thinking about will be delivered by Larry Ellison, Oracle co-founder, exec chairman, and CTO.
From our pre-event briefings, we can expect that Ellison will talk in detail about apps and, of course, infrastructure. You can be 101% certain that Ellison will want to re-emphasize the autonomous database but my sense is that he needs to exercise a degree of care. Why?
Oracle has had something of a wakeup call the last year as it has realized that customers are not so interested in technology in the deep technical sense that represents Oracle's heritage but in outcomes that support business imperatives. To its credit, Oracle has long understood that critical workloads, whether developed directly in OracleDB or in back-office ERP will be a mixture of on-premise, owned or managed data canter and public cloud. The problem Ellison has though comes in two flavors:
First, he was very public in trashing cloud as a fashion statement, correctly pointing out that regardless of the marketing, computers (somewhere) run the software:
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?
That provided good entertainment but it missed the point others were making about cloud benefits.
Second, as time has gone by, Ellison's position has changed but at each turn, Ellison endeavored to take ownership by pointing out, again correctly, that much of the enterprise cloud services run on Oracle. That allowed him to claim leadership but again it missed the point. Running a database, in this case Oracle's, is a fraction of the cloud story. Oracle backfilled the story with infrastructure as a service and, more recently with the autonomous database.
This week, I expect Ellison will endeavor to demonstrate a full stack cloud that includes enterprise-grade security as the gateway through which to challenge the hyperscale vendors. Where I hope he goes in a different direction than usual is in making the business case rather than merely claiming technical leadership and trashing AWS/Azure along the way. That won't wash. We've all heard it too many times before and while entertaining in a way that only Ellison can pull off, it doesn't jibe with market realities. In that context, I'll be delighted if Oracle can demonstrate measured value. If NetSuite can do it with customers, so can Oracle.
Co-CEO Mark Hurd's keynote will showcase heavy hitters including former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, former CIA and NSA Director Gen. Michael Haydon, and former Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service, John Scarlett. Those provide the giveaways about how Oracle plans to support its security chops argument. If their presentations are strong enough then customers will sit up and take notice, especially in the lucrative government sector. Here, Oracle will have to get technical but I hope those conversations will be reserved for the sessions rather than for keynotes.
On the apps side, we are told that Steve Miranda's apps session will include some seriously big names who are making the cloud ERP transition as part of a broader strategic move to become more agile and competitive in what, for many is a service-oriented shift. We will also see some interesting app additions along with a statement that in adding machine learning, there are real business situations where cloud first is the only viable route to delivering value.
There is an open question about whether Oracle will demonstrate a clear and unambiguous commitment to the open source community. We understand there will be certain alliance announcements but Oracle will have to do much more if it is to be seen as a credible voice in the open source world. For example, we have recently seen Microsoft turn over its entire patent library to help the Linux community. In SAP land, SAP has made a renewed commitment to community and the open source element.
Regardless of the criticism that goes Oracle's way, the world needs a strong and credible Oracle. There are just too many business critical systems running on their software at some of the world's largest organizations. They are not going away.
In the pre-event briefings I've had, I sense that the Oracle of today is keenly aware that its destiny is very much in its own hands but that it has to show that it is a different Oracle to the one we've come to know, love and sometimes hate over the last 40 years. They certainly have the ingredients, but can they bake the cake? We'll know the answer to that come Thursday.
As a side issue, while the on the ground diginomica team will take note of Oracle's technical accomplishments, it will be focusing on customer success. We believe that's what customers really want to hear.
Finally, I wonder if Oracle will address the elephant in the room - what was the nature of the disagreement between Thomas Kurian and Larry Ellison that left Kurian believing his only option was to leave a business that he has served well since 1996 and who is well respected among the developer community for bringing Fusion alive? There is plenty of speculation but people will want to be assured that Oracle is not changing course in unexpected ways.