Larry Ellison may have gone from cloud skeptic to true cloud believer, but his vision of the cloud remains primarily on Oracle's existing customer base.
In his keynote speech at Oracle OpenWorld earlier this week, Ellison boasted of Oracle's growth with SaaS, took swipes at IBM and SAP, and unveiled a multitenant option for Oracle 12c Release 1.
What he didn't do: Present a compelling use case for Oracle's cloud for anyone not already heavily invested in the company. Thus, the real mission for Oracle's cloud remains truer than ever: To serve -- or more precisely, retain -- its customers.
Playing to the cloud -- er, crowd
When Oracle declared its cloud services stack "complete" earlier this year, Forrester analyst John Rymer noted, "Oracle's cloud services are designed to help its apps customers embrace cloud. This focus is a good thing." Yet he didn't see how Oracle's focus on its customers translated into a direct attack on Amazon, since "much of what Oracle calls ‘cloud' is actually managed applications hosting."
This last point has become clearer lately, with Oracle's rising emphasis on SaaS suites that keep existing customers in the fold: ERP, CRM, human capital management, and many more.
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, wrote in an email that Ellison was "playing to the Oracle crowd" in his keynote. "Those folks, many of whom are actively using AWS and Azure, are the ones that Ellison hopes to tempt with Oracle's new SaaS services and solutions."
King also noted that some projects, such as those designed for verticals or Oracle's own VARs, might pay off. "But by virtually any measure, Oracle's announcements qualify as a come-from-behind effort against more active and better positioned competitors."
Keep them in the family
It's plain that Oracle understands what's at stake, at least in terms of retaining its customer base and selling products tailored to keep them from straying.
Yefim V. Natis, vice president and research fellow at Gartner, noted in an email that Oracle's newly espoused focus seemed on target with "the importance of all three layers of Cloud -- IaaS, PaaS and SaaS: Their depiction of IaaS and PaaS as one cloud, their recognition of the danger of re-composition of IT market leadership with new names pushing out the old leaders, [and] the high focus on security."
Part of Oracle's plans for security involve a new line of Sparc processors with silicon-level data protection, though it could easily be another vehicle for Oracle to bundle its software and hardware.
"A lot of cloud talk from Oracle in prior years was cloud-washing," Natis wrote. "But it appears that the company has shifted strategically to cloud computing as the future of IT they aim to continue to lead." He cited one particular strength on Oracle's part: Java, specifically with the introduction of WebLogic Server 12c R2. "The effect of this innovation is still to play out," he wrote, "but there is a potential of a leading strength for Oracle in enterprise Java space."
Ultimately, it's nearly impossible to conclude that Oracle provides noteworthy competition for the rest of the public cloud world. Again, if the real aim is to retain and consolidate Oracle's grip on its existing customers, it hardly matters. The true audience for Oracle's cloud will feel right at home.