Why Oracle is happy to lose to AWS and MongoDB

Open source and cloud developers lead the charge away from Oracle’s database, but they're not where Oracle makes its money

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Mark Hurd, the CEO of Oracle, is a numbers guy. In a recent CNBC interview, he was asked about competition from high-flying MongoDB. Rather than respond directly to the challenge, Hurd said, “Just look at the numbers and look at the facts, and see what they're telling you.”

The potential good news for Hurd is that those numbers and facts may keep Oracle comfy during its dotage. The potential bad news is that those same numbers and facts suggest Oracle has lost its way as a general-purpose database. Oracle is, in short, seems to have become the database CIOs will pick to run their business, but not to define their business. Is that a bad thing?

Oracle lost the developer war but won the marketplace battle

Put another way, how is it that Oracle can be such a miss with developers and yet still print billions of dollars in revenue? I’m guessing Hurd doesn’t care much about developer adoption. He likely doesn’t care that, measured in popularity, Oracle has been in terminal decline for many years, as DB-Engines’ data suggests. In fact, if you look at the database technologies for which developers ask the most questions (indicating production use) on Stack Overflow, only MongoDB and PostgreSQL are booming (of the top-five database technologies).

No, what Hurd cares about, as he acknowledges in his remarks to CNBC, is the fact that Oracle still controls roughly half of the global database market, worth tens of billions of dollars. Never mind that, as Gartner analyst Merv Adrian has highlighted, Oracle has lost market share every year since 2013, and collectively the old guard relational database players have shed nearly five percentage points.

Given how entrenched they’ve been for so long, that still leaves them with roughly 86 percent of the market, but it’s not good news for them that open source databases, which claimed 0 percent of the paid market ten years ago, now take more than 7 percent, according to Gartner, or that cloud databases from Amazon Web Services and other new commercial providers are also booming.

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