Oracle's Q2 profits down 1 percent, revenue up 2 percent to $9.3 billion

Annual maintenance revenue rises 6 percent to $4.5 billion

Oracle's second-quarter revenue rose 2 percent to $9.3 billion while net income dropped 1 percent to $2.6 billion, with new software license and cloud subscription revenue flat and hardware product revenue continuing a long slide.

New software license and cloud subscription revenue remained at $2.4 billion for the quarter ended Nov. 30, Oracle said in its announcement Wednesday. But revenue from the annual maintenance payments its on-premises software customers make to Oracle grew 6 percent to $4.5 billion.

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Hardware product revenue fell 3 percent to $714 million, with total hardware systems revenue flat at $1.3 billion.

Since getting into the hardware business with the purchase of Sun Microsystems, Oracle has maintained it has no interest in selling commodity servers against the likes of Dell and Hewlett-Packard. Instead, it is focused on selling specialized "engineered systems" such as Exadata, which also hold plenty of lucrative software licenses. That said, earlier this year CEO Larry Ellison said Oracle expected its hardware business to start growing this fiscal year.

In fact, hardware growth will occur in the next quarter, Oracle co-president Mark Hurd said in a statement. Oracle's Exadata, Exalogic and Exalytics systems experienced "double-digit" revenue growth, while the SPARC SuperCluster and Big Data Appliance product saw revenue grow a triple-digit rate, Hurd said.

Oracle's "billion dollar" SaaS (software as a service) business saw bookings grow 35 percent in the quarter, with the strongest sellers being Fusion HCM (human capital management) and Fusion Salesforce Automation, Ellison said in a statement.

In the quarter, database sales were strong thanks to Exadata and optional modules, Hurd said during a conference call Wednesday.

Version 12c of Oracle's database is generating more interest among customers than "any database version in recent memory," Ellison said on the call. The multitenancy and in-memory options for 12c will spark "very rapid uptake in 2014 and 2015," he said.

With 12c and engineered systems, Oracle is presenting a couple of positive scenarios to customers, Ellison said. "It's not just a matter of one Exadata machine providing extreme performance to one application," he said. Customers can also use that power to consolidate large numbers of database applications to a single machine, lowering their costs, he said.

"Our customers spend a fortune" managing many smaller Oracle installations, he said. The multitenancy option in 12c can make this job simpler and more reliable, according to Ellison.

Meanwhile, not every engineered system Oracle will sell is aimed at extreme high performance, Ellison said. He pointed to the recently released Virtual Compute Appliance, which links commodity servers using InfiniBand and runs Linux and virtualization software.

Oracle's ventures into PaaS (platform as a service) and IaaS (infrastructure as a service) are fairly nascent, but it will be a player, according to Ellison.

"Our strategy is to be a player in all three parts of the cloud: SaaS, platform and infrastructure," he said. "We think we have a much stronger platform than any of our SaaS competitors."

Oracle also intends to be "price-competitive" in IaaS with the likes of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, he added.

Some observers see significant market pressures for Oracle moving forward, particularly in cloud software.

Some 38 percent of Oracle customers use Salesforce.com, up 30 percent from a year ago, and another 15 percent of Oracle's installed base is either planning to migrate or evaluate Salesforce.com, according to a new report from Morgan Stanley, which recently downgraded Oracle's stock.

Meanwhile, 15 percent of Oracle customers are using HCM (human capital management) software from Workday, up 40 percent year over year, and another 25 percent intend to take a look at Workday HCM, according to Morgan Stanley.

The investment bank also said recent survey data suggests potential adoption of Oracle's Fusion Applications is lower than initially expected, "which may be unable to stem the tide of continued migrations to Salesforce.com and potentially Workday offerings."

Oracle is not taking its rivals in SaaS lightly, according to Ellison.

"We are organized against our secular competitors," he said on the call." A while ago we decided we had to line up an HCM sales force directly against Workday. That's all they think about all day. We have another team of people competing against Salesforce. We are organized by functional area so we can compete against these new generations of specialists."

Oracle will likely have a healthy on-premises software business "forever," said analyst Ray Wang of Constellation Research. Still, like every on-premises software vendor Oracle faces a challenge keeping investors happy, as some of its revenue shifts away from perpetual licenses and their attendant large, up-front payments to cloud subscription fees, which are recognized differently on balance sheets, he said.

Observers will be looking to see how quickly customers upgrade to Oracle's new 12c database. The Oracle database's broad presence in enterprise IT environments not only generates ample revenue but also keeps customers wedded to Oracle in general, since many of them build custom applications with the software and unraveling the database layer is no small task.

Most Oracle database customers wait until the second release of a major new edition, preferring to let early adopters deal with any lingering bugs. While the question remains of how many customers complete that upgrade or port their systems to rival databases, Oracle is hoping 12c's cloud-friendly features and an upcoming in-memory option will keep them in the fold.

There's other work for Oracle to do as well, given the growth in technology spending at the departmental level, such as marketing and human resources, Wang said: "They need to shift from a product-centric, techy marketing message to talking about business outcomes."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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