Enterprise computing IS the cloud

Cloud strategy is now indivisible from enterprise computing - can Oracle retain its vast customer base in this new era?
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

The Oracle occupation of downtown San Francisco buildings is over, but the sea and air invasion continues. After painting the town red with Open World conference events, the city's busiest events weekend (thanks to the fog free Indian summer we San Franciscans enjoy this time of year) includes lots of America's Cup yacht racing action on the bay. 

The video clip above of the defending cup holder Oracle team capsizing but subsequently going on to win Saturday's event is a good analogy for how many enterprise software customers see all the big incumbent tech vendors in the race for future relevance. They're heavily invested in past technologies and watching the race for any errors and where the future high ground is.

The 'cloud' air war now effectively IS enterprise computing: any differentiation from the old networked on-premise data center world of vast extranets was rendered moot by Oracle's wholesale adoption of cloud rhetoric and perceived future client needs last week.

Like the yachting America's Cup which Team USA/ Oracle currently hold, the vast installed Oracle client base is Oracle's to lose. SAP may be the largest provider of discrete business applications but Oracle's customers are used to a soup to nuts relationship from bare metal up to business process, and based on my conversations with various random Oracle users last week they appear confident about their future with the Oracle juggernaut.

Where Oracle are vulnerable in a down economy is the relative lack of huge global companies left to supply: small and medium business have headroom to grow, typically at the expense of incumbents. Many of the success stories in the SMB sector have the rapidity of cloud strategy along with SaaS lower costs and agility to change at their heart. Larger companies are fostering small business units and encouraging start up style innovation outside of the mothership infrastructure as they look for growth opportunities.

The cultural identity problems for the large IT players - Microsoft, IBM, SAP and Oracle (MISO) - are massive: their DNA is rooted in the last century and try as they might to reinvent themselves, their rank and file integrators and users are set in their ways.

Fusion is a very sophisticated and solid - although complex- set of offerings and Oracle continue to do a terrific job rolling out their 21st century solutions...the 'but' is that the client user base is small and the vast majority of Oracle customers didn't appear particularly interested. The fact that the Fusion apps were all showcased in the smaller Moscone Conference West venue while the huge hall in the main conference center had two sets of showcase areas for everything else spoke volumes about where the business is today. 

For fiscal Q1 ending Aug. 31, Oracle claims $222 million in cloud-based revenue. That's  a fraction of $8.2 billion total sales but  the first time Oracle has disclosed cloud revenue. Company President Mark Hurd stated Oracle's cloud business this quarter is at a $1 billion run rate.

Servicing yesteryears portals and existing plumbing is understandably why most attendees were in San Francisco, and tech conferences are just as much about existing users as showcasing what's next for them and impressing Wall Street analysts. The reality however is that no one knows what the future holds for big tech in a world of month by month Software as a Service subscriptions an business disruption at all levels. The big financial companies are experimenting with Google, Amazon and Facebook style massive datacenter design models - Goldman Sachs are experimenting with Facebook's Open Compute project for example, as alternatives to the proprietary world of Oracle. 

The low hanging fruit ideas around big data/internet of things and a billion + of networked people with mobile devices and their treasure trails of activity mapping have been fertile marketing ground as the promised land of profitability for big tech for the last eighteen months, and Oracle's subset Customer Experience Summit neatly hit all the familiar touch points of this promised land of the future. The realities of where we are today in how the complicated world of Customer Relationship and Service transactions sit alongside (or intertwined with) interaction and dialog with prospects and customers has been subject to gale force hyperbole from the social media world. 

As many of us know, establishing actionable, pragmatic strategies that work in the face of all the red herrings and noise out there makes decision making that much harder. Oracle, like their MISO competitors, clearly felt the ground was solid enough underfoot to step into this emergent area, despite the Facebook face plant ipo and questions being asked about whether it or other social networking sites will ever drive ecommerce. IT companies generally don't understand the branding and marketing needs of industries outside hitech at all, and this is a significant move outside of Oracles' core areas of competency.

As I said at the beginning of OpenWorld last week, ultimately this is all to drive sales of an Apple style stack of exabyte servers, pluggable databases and any flavor or blend of cloud delivery you want. The larger question is whether this is what the business world needs at this point. Oracle are excellent at executing and have a huge captive market, but now that enterprise computing is indivisible from cloud strategy there is still the possibility that Oracle's late move into the cloud (the big MISO dogs move last) may be designed to serve a monolithic market that soon won't exist.

Like the defending America's Cup yacht Oracle will race next summer, they are likely to win but it's not a foregone conclusion...


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