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Tidbits from Oracle quarterly results in Q4 2013

Oracle earnings for Q4 of 2013 included talk of the company's three-headed strategy, engineered systems and, of course, digs at the competition.

Oracle quarterly results were announced on Wednesday, with earnings up about 2% year over year, but profits down slightly. Oracle's investment in sales and marketing -- to the tune of a 10.5% increase -- meant that the company's expenses were up overall, and also that Oracle database and application professionals can expect a continued, constant push from their sales reps.

Here are a few other tidbits from Oracle quarterly results and the earnings call that took place on Wednesday:

Three-headed monster. Oracle CEO Lawrence Ellison said the company is pursuing a three-pronged strategy that will drive growth in 2014. Those prongs are database, cloud applications and engineered systems.

Ellison and President Mark Hurd said that its cloud applications and engineered systems businesses both grew about 35%. A small base can sometimes lead to a large percentage increase, particularly with a fairly new product line such as Oracle's cloud applications.

Hurd said during the Oracle quarterly results call that cloud and engineered systems have "hypergrowth-like characteristics."

Engineered systems for the masses. Hurd said that all of Oracle's engineered systems had double-digit growth, with its Big Data Appliance and Sparc SuperCluster products seeing triple-digit growth. Ellison took some time to talk about the two sides to the engineered systems business. The first -- which includes the likes of Exadata, Exalogic and Exalytics -- are built largely for high performance, but come with a high cost, many times in the tens of millions once you add in software licensing and support costs.

"The other thing we have introduced recently are lower-cost engineered systems," Ellison said during the Oracle quarterly results call. "They go after the masses and price-sensitive parts of the market."

The cheapest of these appliances is the Oracle Database Appliance, which has a base hardware cost of $60,000. Once you add in mandatory support costs, that quickly brings the price up to about $73,000. Hurd said Oracle has sold about 2,000 of them since it was introduced two years ago.

Oracle has also started offering eighth-rack versions of its Exadata and Exalogic, but even those cost a quarter-million dollars each. Still, they're a foot in the door for some medium and larger enterprises, according to Floyd Teter, a well-known Oracle applications expert.

High interest in Oracle Database 12c. Oracle executives said it was still too early to see any effect in revenue from the new version of Oracle Database, which became generally available earlier this year. Ellison said he expects to see some growth from 12c at this time next year.

Two features of 12c that have been grabbing users' attention have been Multitenant and the in-memory add-on.

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Oracle Multitenant, which was called Pluggable Database in beta -- takes virtualization to the database level, allowing for a container database that can have several "pluggable" databases within it. Patch updates, for example, can be made just on the container, with the changes affecting all the pluggables as well. But companies -- even large ones that might look to virtualize dozens to hundreds of database instances -- must complete an in-depth evaluation of whether the extra cost for Multitenant is worth it. The feature is listed at an extra $17,500 over the standard Enterprise Edition license cost of $47,500. That's not exactly pocket change when you start adding licenses up. In the end, it will likely depend on how successful you are at negotiating that price down.

The other 12c feature getting a lot of attention is the in-memory add-on, which Oracle announced in September and which will be available in 2014. The benefit is that Oracle database professionals don't need to put all their data in a second in-memory database if they want faster processing. The downside, similar to Oracle Multitenant, is that it will cost more for the add-on. Ellison said during the Oracle quarterly earnings call that the in-memory option in combination with Oracle's Sparc-based M6 Big Memory Machine could hold 99.99% of the world's databases in main memory.

Comparison with the competition. Here's a sampling of comments that Ellison, Hurd and President Safra Catz made about competing tech vendors:

  • "Our cloud and engineered systems business have hypergrowth-like characteristics," Hurd said. "The growth of just our software business is more than double the revenue of Workday."
  • "Our consistent growth of free cash flow … has resulted in our surpassing IBM, which, as you know, has seen declines in the last eight of the last 12 quarters," Catz said.
  • "We think we have a much stronger platform than any of our SaaS [Software as a Service] competitors," Ellison said. "If you look at and, you look at their platform capabilities versus the Oracle Database and Java. … We think we have a considerable advantage."

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