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Thumbs up to Oracle's cloud database service, down to cloud washing

Oracle founder and CTO Larry Ellison's cloud-focused opening keynote speech at the vendor's Oracle OpenWorld 2014 conference was a mix of the substantial and the specious.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Larry Ellison was in prime form Sunday night during his opening keynote at Oracle OpenWorld 2014 here. Oracle's CTO and executive chairman started slowly, slogging through various SaaS features the company was announcing.

Then his clicker stopped working. And from there, the presentation got better.

After a few tense minutes, during which the former Oracle CEO was clearly annoyed about the technical difficulties, he got into his element, riffing in vintage Ellison style. He sipped soda onstage, talked about making it easier to bring Oracle Database to the cloud and took potshots at rivals, Workday and SAP that brought chuckles from the crowd. But while Ellison's announcement of Oracle's new cloud database service was substantial, much of his talk was cloud washing that fell flat, even if it was humorous at times.

Oracle Database cloud shift gets easier

It can be difficult to sort through the numerous announcements that always come at OpenWorld's opening keynote session. And Oracle had plenty: what Ellison claimed were 171 new software as a service (SaaS) applications, a Zero Data Loss Recovery Appliance, a Sparc chip that includes database instructions, a new storage area network device with flash storage. And on and on.

But the most important news was that Oracle Database shops will now be able to send database instances to the cloud with "the push of a button." Oracle may be a vendor that sells business applications, server hardware, storage devices, microprocessors and cloud services. But first and foremost, it's a database company. Everything revolves around its flagship product, the one that has been around since its founding more than 30 years ago: Oracle Database.

As Ellison explained -- and I think successfully so -- the ability to seamlessly move Oracle Database instances to the cloud is a fulfillment of a promise Oracle made to its customers 30 years ago. As IT has evolved, moving from mainframes and minicomputers to client/server systems and then to thin clients, Oracle Database has thrived partly because it was able to easily move from one architecture to the next. With Oracle's database as a service cloud platform, that promise continues.

As SearchOracle Associate Site Editor Jessica Sirkin reported, Ellison said this in his keynote speech: "That's what people expect us to do -- what we've been doing for the past 30 years: to upgrade everything without having to touch a line of code."

How easy relocating Oracle databases to the cloud will be in practice is still an open question. Ellison plans to demo the cloud database service at his second keynote on Tuesday -- Oracle users may start getting an initial sense of how it works then.

A valid criticism of the announcement is that Oracle Database shops can already do something similar using the Amazon Relational Database Service from But the Amazon service is primarily for new instances of Oracle's database, while what Ellison announced Sunday night is the ability to easily move existing on-premises instances of Oracle Database 11g and 12c to the cloud. That is impressive, and once Oracle Database shops decide to move to the cloud, I think it will be a primary option.

Striking out on SaaS and potshots

Less impressive were Ellison's claims that Oracle is already a leader in the cloud and his potshots at rival cloud vendors.

Pointing to all those new SaaS applications and to more than 2,000 new SaaS customers that he said the company has won, Ellison proclaimed that Oracle is now a "player in applications in the cloud." But there's less than meets the eye here. He posted a slide that contained multiple columns listing what he said were new SaaS applications -- but they're simply existing applications put onto Oracle cloud's platform, or application versions Oracle has developed or gained through acquisition. Oracle can claim all the SaaS applications it wants, but the laundry list doesn't matter as much as customer adoption and cloud revenue.

Ellison made it clear that Oracle wants its hands in all three layers of the cloud -- SaaS as well as platform as a service (PaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS). But the truth is that Oracle isn't a revenue leader in any of those categories. According to market research firm IDC, it's only a top five vendor in one of them: SaaS. And even there, Oracle is in fourth place, lagging behind Salesforce, ADP and Intuit.

Ellison questioned whether the clouds of some rivals are really clouds. He zeroed in on Salesforce, Workday and SAP, saying that their cloud platforms either don't exist or are tenuous because they're built on top of Oracle Database, Oracle hardware and Java. "It's rude, but it's the truth," Ellison quipped, to the laughter of thousands in the crowd.

It's an incredibly specious argument, and it reveals Oracle's faulty message around the cloud. Just because a vendor provides the underlying infrastructure of cloud computing doesn't mean it's a cloud computing vendor. Under Ellison's argument, Intel is probably the biggest cloud provider on the planet, because its processors run the servers that run the software that provide cloud services to IT users. Being a cloud vendor means providing a service -- software, infrastructure, what have you -- that is charged similar to a utility and can be ramped up and down on demand. Who cares if it runs on Exadata?

News director Mark Fontecchio may be reached at Follow us on Twitter: @SearchOracle.

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