OOW: Oracle continues to polarise opinion

Oracle's current cloud focus has polarised opinion. Some think it's great, others think it's mutton dressed as lamb. Where's the upside for customers?
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

With the dust settling over Oracle Open World I could not help but be struck by the way this company galvanises opinion. On the one hand we have Vinnie Mirchandani describing his joy at seeing Oracle go for a 'moon shot.' On the other hand analyst Peter Goldmacher of Cowen & Co writes in a research note that Oracle's cloud efforts is 'mutton dressed as lamb.' Our own Jack Clark was bold enough to describe what he saw as Oracle on path to become the Apple of the enterprise much to the indignation of open source fan Alex Williams. He worries about the machines and not 'the fantasy of a new world.' 

At one point I was starting to think - dang: should've been there. But then others who have yet to voice a public opinion described Open World to me as 'insufferable.' Viewing this from the safety of the peanut gallery I can see how this could all be horribly confusing. 

For several years now, colleagues have said to me they believe Oracle has the best shot at emerging stronger and more competitive from the current on-premise, hybrid, cloud melée. They argue the engineered sustems approach is what provides an edge. 

There is little doubt that the advancing cloud apps movement has shaken SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Infor, Epicor and many others. All have had to think about the future and how they protect existing businesses while transitioning to new technologies and business models. It is a hard road. In the meantime, customers are not hanging about.

The fact that Salesforce.com alone has amassed market momentum to the tune of $3 billion in revenue with its own moonshot of $10 billion speaks volumes. The fact Workday will likely IPO at close to a $4 billion valuation just about a year after having achieved a $2 billion post money round says plenty. Customers are voting with their wallets although when you stand back and consider the cloud market for ERP and surround systems today, either of Oracle or SAP could eat those revenues and hardly notice the difference. Yet they, along with everyone else it seems, believes the cloud is the future for everyone. 

As I said in my earlier piece, Oracle is taking this topic seriously. That became more obvious as OOW unfolded when the company's PR reached out to me on some fact issues. That hasn't happened in some years. Kudos for that.

I'll acknowledge flat out that if I take off my 20 years' experience reporting and understanding these markets, then the vision looks attractive. Who wouldn't want to think that problems around integration, upgrades, systems management et al might go away? The talk about standards has to be attractive to those who have a mish mash of systems, databases, middleware and on and on. Oh - that would be pretty much everyone - right? That plays directly to a meme James Governor proposes: Opinionated Infrastructure. That meme is subtly directed towards IBM but as I watched some of the videos I couldn't help but think Oracle. And you have to give Oracle's senior team much credit for sticking to an exposition of its vision, even if that meant choking on the temptation to bash competitors. So far so good. 

But in the end, was there anything really new here? Yes, I see how the stack argument might help TCO/ROI but then Oracle needs to be transparent on pricing. Good though that might be, it's a potential one time positive hit. 

What I would like to know but am not seeing is how Oracle's vision will change the world  in the way I see others attempting to do. Try these three questions:

  • How will it help business re-imagine its future?
  • How will the speeds and feeds transmute to anything beyond relatively small incremental change?
  • How will Oracle bulk up on data center investments to really hammer down the running costs and allow for increased spend on the things that matter? Spend that it could garner through talking about wild labs experiments. 

None of that was clear to me in any of the reports I saw or video replays. And that, in truth, is what any forward thinking business wants to know. As for the rest? Sure, Oracle has laid out a path that will unquestionably be attractive to significant numbers of its existing customer base. There is a transitioning pathway to cloud revenues absent from competition. It's just not quite enough. Give me the breakthrough business case for buying the vision and I may well get off what feels like a somewhat uncomfortable fence. 

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