As Oracle takes over the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco this week for its annual user conference, front of mind for many attendees is going to be the theme of ‘autonomy’ - or more specifically, finding out how Oracle is planning to evolve and extend last year’s announcement around the ‘Autonomous Database’.
We are aware that the machine learning technologies that have been applied to the Autonomous Database - or the autonomous robots, as they were described last year - are likely to be extended to other cloud services in some news announcements this week. But before that, we thought it might be a good idea to catch up with the autonomous team at Oracle to find out how customers are responding to 2018’s release and where the company has seen uptake.
Last week during Oracle’s earnings announcement, CTO Larry Ellison delivered a number of headline figures to back up claims that Oracle’s flagship autonomous database is gaining traction. He stated that:
In Q1 Oracle added 3,700 new Autonomous Database trials
Autonomous Database added 500 new customers in Q1
There are now over 2000 paying customers
Around 45% of people who are using Autonomous Database are also using the Oracle Analytics Cloud
13% of Autonomous Database customers had never bought a database from Oracle
43% of workloads going onto Autonomous Database are net new, not being moved from on-premise
To add some additional colour to this, diginomica spoke to Juan Loaiza, EVP of Systems Technology at Oracle, to get a sense of how the technology is being used in the real world and where customers have been finding value in the short term.
Unsurprisingly, following on from Ellison’s keynote last year, Loaiza pointed to companies that are grappling with enhanced security threats as one of the primary drivers for deploying Oracle’s autonomous systems. He explained:
The demands on companies today are very complex and very sophisticated. I would say customers are struggling. That traditional kind of ‘build and operate yourself’ model is very difficult. One big area is security, because the level and sophistication of security attacks that are going on, it’s just escalating and escalating.
And most customers just don't have the expertise to handle it. Now you're dealing with nation states attacking companies, it’s not just lone hackers doing weird things anymore. It really takes a very large company, like an Oracle, which has over 100,000 employees to have the scale to take on the kind of security issues that are going on today. A lot of companies just don't have that kind of expertise anymore.
We are taking more and more responsibility for doing these things, which are quite complicated to do.
Interestingly, for Oracle, Loaiza said that Autonomous Database has seen a lot of traction with either smaller organisations or ‘grassroots’ developers. This is perhaps unsurprising given that the aim is to strip out the complexity of management and operations, but it does mean that Oracle is playing to an audience that isn’t exactly its traditional install base. Loaiza explained:
Autonomous really broadens the accessibility of data management. You don’t really have to be an expert on something. You can just be a user. That opens the market to developers, data scientists, smaller companies - the business part of large companies, without having to go through IT. It lowers the skill level. It opens up possibilities, it opens up the market. You don’t have to build stuff, operate stuff, make sure it’s secure.
Like Fusion, a lot of the early adopters are actually smaller companies. The reason for that is pretty simple, they never used to be able to do this stuff and now they can.
Loaiza said that this is good news for Oracle, as it broadens its market and customer base. He added that almost a quarter of adoption thus far has been developers.
This is because if you’re a developer, it used to be complicated to use Oracle. Now as a developer you can just get on and say ‘give me a database’ and just start using it.
I think autonomy has a bigger effect in the short term on the bottom up, the grassroots people. But the top-down people are also very interested in it, because it hits their pain points - things like cost, security, availability, all that kind of stuff.
If you’ve got a reporting system, or something like that, people want to experiment with that before an online ordering website, where if there’s a problem, they’re in big trouble.
Autonomy with choice
Despite Oracle’s ambitions for fully autonomous enterprise systems, Loaiza was still keen to emphasise - probably for Oracle’s larger enterprise customers - that there is still a degree of control and choice available. Loaiza compared it to a self driving car, where he said: “you have to have confidence that that thing is going to work”. He added:
There are still choices you can make. Like, when does the system get patched? How close am I to the release date of the patch? There’s choices that IT departments still want to make. An IT department wouldn’t want to patch a financial system before the day of financial close. It’s not a good practice. So they want to have control over that sort of stuff. Some want to be in control of budget, authorisation, etc. - so we are broadening the offering to make it more attractive, to provide more control, where they have extremely mission critical systems and can’t completely cede control.
I pressed Loaiza on where Oracle’s risks or challenges may lie over the next year to 24 months, as it relates to the autonomous division. However, he said that a lot of his worries are behind him now, given the uptake that the vendor has seen and the response from customers. That being said, he recognises that the shift has been a significant one for Oracle and that there’s still work to be done. Loaiza said:
We’re going to have to scale quite a bit to meet the growth. It is quite a change for us, from being the provider of technology to being the company that provides the service. But we are pretty far into it at this point. I’m not sure I’m spending a lot of nights tossing and turning at this point, but there’s still a lot to do, don’t get me wrong.
It was smart of Oracle to own the idea of autonomous systems for the enterprise, despite early naysayers’ comments. Oracle is right too point out that customers are struggling with operations and management. Cloud is great, but it doesn’t necessarily make the technology easy to use. If Oracle can extend autonomous to critical services, execute on it and make outcomes easy and valuable for the enterprise buyer - that’s a compelling proposition. That serves to differentiates Oracle from AWS and makes Oracle an easier choice for the CIO/CTO. However, that said, it’s early days and execution is key. We will be looking to analyse the outcomes of those early autonomous customers this week at OpenWorld.