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Oracle OpenWorld 2019 - glimpsing the world beyond the Autonomous Database

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan September 15, 2019
Larry Ellison's vision for autonomous cloud stretches beyond the database world as OpenWorld delegates will hear this week.

Larry Ellison smiling

Two years ago at Oracle OpenWorld, CTO Larry Ellison unveiled the idea of the Autonomous Database. By the following year it had begun to roll out. This week as the Oracle faithful gather in San Francisco, it’s all about adoption, traction, proof points and “a bunch of autonomous services”.

Ellison’s enthusiasm for the latest big development at Oracle is nothing new. Across the years, he’s buzzed with evangelical fervor for everything from object oriented databases through the Network Computer, without which any Oracle presentation was not complete for a couple of years.

And if the initial enthusiasm for cloud computing wasn’t apparent, that’s long ago now and may well in large part have been inspired by irritation at successful marketing hype around the model from others. Oracle is used to leading, not following - and that’s certainly one of the inspirations for Ellison’s evangelical stance on the Autonomous Database which he dubs “a game changer”.

It would be easy for long term Oracle watchers  to raise an arched eyebrow here and think, ‘Here we go again’ before buckling in for the ride.  Ellison on fire for a technology is still a sight to see over 40 years after Oracle was founded. But there’s an awareness on the part of the Oracle founder that suggests this might be different as he observes:

All right, game changer - interesting term. It sounds like a cliché, a little bit of marketing hype.

It isn’t, he insists. This is a big, big deal for Oracle. According to Ellison:

Autonomous technology is the key element that differentiates a second-generation cloud from a first-generation cloud. Now in the first-generation cloud, your real benefit was you were going to rent computers and you only pay for what you use.

Second-generation cloud, not only do we deliver the benefits of pay per use, we also take the human labor out of running the cloud. That's even bigger economic savings. Sharing computers and renting computers is not as costly as paying for the labor to run those computers.

So from an economic advantage, a second-generation autonomous cloud is much less expensive to run than a first-generation cloud. But that's not what's really important. What's really important is the second-generation autonomous cloud prevents data theft, which you can never do in a first-generation manual cloud.

Autonomous thinking 

Last week Ellison pointed to the data breach suffered by Capital One as an exemplar of what can go wrong with manual systems, a use case that usefully included Amazon Web Services, the inevitable bete noir on this particular technology battlefront. Expect to hear that example rehearsed again this week.

There’s a wider point being made though:

What's the greatest thing about autonomous driving?…The greatest thing about autonomous driving, it's going to reduce human pilot error and cut down on accidents by 90%, 95%, 98%, 99%. It's going to save lives. It's going to stop, come close to eliminating pilot error.

The Oracle Autonomous Database, the Oracle self-driving database prevents users from making catastrophic mistakes resulting in data loss. And there is no way to do it in a manual cloud, end of story. That's what I mean by game changer.

It’s also a competitive differentiator, he insists:

This is the case where we have a technology that nobody else has, We are the dominant database supplier on the planet right now. We're bigger than IBM and Microsoft combined. In the previous battles, in the previous war on-premise, we were bigger than Microsoft and IBM combined, our two biggest competitors. There are a bunch of open source cloud databases and there’s a lot of more specialized, ones. I mean there are probably a dozen of them, or more for that matter.

But none of them are autonomous. None of them are secure. None of them task themselves, while running. None of them give you 99.995% availability. We're 100 times more reliable. I mean seriously - a 100x more reliable than these guys. We have the only system that we can pretty much ensure that your data can't be stolen, because you can't make pilot errors. You can't make mistakes, because all that's – all of those decisions are automated.

To come

While there are now over 2000 paying customers and thousands more being added to non-paying trials each quarter, it is still early days, argues Ellison;

In the Autonomous Database, all you can do is listen to me talk about this extraordinary technology. We're so early on in the curve, we've got such little data in the curve. Even we're playing’ let's wait and see what this turns out to be’. But we have this gigantic installed base that's I think going to go with Autonomous Database.

In other words, this is a long game, he suggests, observing that it took 10 years for the firm’s Fusion apps to “get going”:

A lot of people have tried to build cloud systems. It's not easy. I can attest to that. I have lots of scars.

So if OpenWorld this week isn’t going to have masses of contented Autonomous Database users on parade, what can delegates expect? The answer is what comes next after the database. Ellison explains:

We started with Autonomous Database in 2018. We continue to make improvements there and speeding it up. But we're not stopping at Autonomous Database. At OpenWorld, we'll be announcing a whole bunch of new autonomous services. No one else is doing this. But we're not just talking about Autonomous Database. So you're going to see a bunch of arguments where we take that same machine learning technology to develop other autonomous services. And we're on our way. I mean, it's our goal to deliver the world's first and only completely autonomous cloud, the most important thing in keeping your data safe.

I mean, you really should have an autonomous operating system. You should have a bunch of autonomous services in that to operate that cloud, so human beings aren't given the opportunity to make mistakes and people can concentrate on building applications rather than managing the plumbing of the cloud, which is complicated and error prone and expensive. So we want to get rid of the expense, get rid of the errors.

Starting with Autonomous Database, you'll see a bunch more announcements of new autonomous services in OCI (Oracle Cloud Infrastructure). And OCI is definitely on a roll. If people come to look at Autonomous Database, they look around in the Oracle Cloud and they see our analytics, our compute. We really have a second-generation cloud that's highly differentiated from our friends in Amazon or Google.

My take

As I suggested above, Ellison enthused by a technology innovation can be a force majeur. I’ve been covering Oracle for 30 years now and have seen the man in action all that time, both in public fora and up-close in one-to-one situations. He remains a great tech evangelist and one whose influence has been acknowledged by many who have followed in his footsteps.

He’s also ruffled feathers across the decades and there always needs to be an opposing force to take on. This time it’s Amazon’s turn to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Informix, SAP and poor old Cullinet, the first fatal victim of the Oracle ascendency.

I’m watching OpenWorld from afar this week, but I suspect that those in San Francisco’s Moscone Center are going to be on the receiving end of Ellison on form. He’s ‘owning’ Autonomous Database and that in itself is a big deal.

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