Advancing its 'autonomous' theme, Oracle builds a platform vision at OpenWorld 2019
October 17 2019
by Paige Bartley, Craig Matsumoto, James Curtis, Jean Atelsek, Keith Dawson, Sheryl Kingstone
Oracle's OpenWorld 2019 customer event saw the company continuing its obsession with the cloud, striving for technological leadership against market leader Amazon Web Services (AWS), in particular. Oracle doubled down on the Oracle Autonomous Database offerings and autonomous security first announced in 2017, further emphasizing the architectural differentiators of the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) as the underpinning of its modernized capabilities and what the company deems the 'Generation 2 Cloud.' The company also revealed a softer side, at least in terms of its user interface and user experience: a nod to the growing audience of non-technical users that it hopes to attract given its historical reputation as an IT-centric provider.
Importantly, an autonomous platform vision – rather than just Autonomous Database vision – emerged, with announcements such as the Oracle Autonomous Linux OS. To sweeten the deal, Always Free Oracle cloud services, with attractive specifications, ratcheted up the pressure with public cloud incumbents in a not-so-subtle competitive push.
The 451 Take
To Oracle's credit, OpenWorld 2019 was unwavering in its consistency of the 'autonomous' vision and positioning that was announced two years earlier. Everything from security to OS to UX is becoming more autonomous. In this sense, there were few bombshell announcements at the conference; the company is gradually working toward an autonomous platform vision, in which the cloud data management ecosystem can be optimized via automation, and in which human error is a thing of the past.
However, a maturing vision does not necessarily mean absence of abrasiveness. As usual, AWS was firmly and transparently in the crosshairs, with performance and pricing – particularly for mixed workloads -- being underscored as Oracle differentiators. Perhaps more interestingly, the company seemed to change its tune on the envisioned human relationship with 'autonomous.' In 2018, autonomous capabilities were touted as complementary rather than competitive with existing professional skills. In 2019, the company made it no secret that humans were now viewed as the fallible weak link and something to be eliminated for optimal data management and security. To reconcile this message with the 'softer' Oracle redesign and rebranding – intended to resonate with business users – may be a challenge.
Oracle OpenWorld had a quieter vibe than in recent years. Unlike OpenWorlds past, the 2019 event did not barricade a full block of San Francisco's bustling Howard Street; while this change was likely facilitated by the indoor capacity of the recently renovated Moscone Center, the lack of signature Oracle-red carpet dominating the thoroughfare muted the fanfare of the event. Monolithic red branding, in general, was toned down and purposefully replaced with an earthy color palette and array of naturalistic textures, reflecting the company's new website and product design scheme – an intentional outcome of Redwood, the UX initiative meant to appeal to an increasingly diverse array of technical and non-technical end users.
So, while Oracle's product announcements and updates were largely consistent with – and built upon – the established autonomous theme, there was still an element of corporate cognitive dissonance. Oracle clearly understands that it must provide highly accessible, 'smart' and guided functionality to an expanding pool of non-technical business users if it expects to embed itself in the enterprise as the platform vehicle for organization-wide data leverage and intelligence. UX redesign and the softer Oracle branding are appeals to this increasingly influential audience. On the other hand, the 'humans are the problem' stance threatens the livelihoods and egos of DBAs and other assorted IT personas that the brand has historically built its empire on. Oracle's response is that by automating mundane operational tasks such as software patching, upgrade and security enforcement, it is freeing up DBAs and IT professionals to perform other tasks.
Cloud and the underpinning OCI were central to nearly every announcement and new capability revealed at OpenWorld. The cohesive vision for the cloud ecosystem was clear and consistent with autonomous messaging. There's a bit of a catch, of course. To realize that vision, there needs to be complete organizational buy-in with OCI. Most enterprise businesses face the reality of mixed hybrid on-premises and cloud workloads and cannot just flip a switch to fully adopt Oracle Cloud Infrastructure overnight. So, while the vision of Oracle autonomous capabilities on OCI are clear, the actual reality of achieving them may be more laborious than they initially seem, especially if non-linear, on-premises upgrade paths are involved.
OCI is increasingly bound more tightly by multi-functional data management and governance capabilities that have the opportunity to further integrate both the Oracle products themselves and distinct stakeholders within the enterprise. A cloud data catalog and cloud data integration capabilities help users of all roles and skillsets get what they need most out of enterprise informational resources. But Oracle has been transparent with its modus operandi; the goal of new services such as the cloud-based Oracle Data Integration Platform (DIP) are to expressly get as much enterprise data into Oracle's cloud as possible. That may be an intimidating message for some, but Oracle feels confident it can make the case for a strong value proposition.
Announcements at Oracle OpenWorld 2019 largely argued that this full OCI buy-in was not only a rational decision, but a strategically advantageous one. Some of the highlights follow, and 451 Research plans to dig more robustly into the OpenWorld announcements in future reports.
Cloud Free Tier
The newly announced Oracle Cloud Free Tier consists of a Free Trial (30 days) offering that includes $300 of credits to be used for a wide array of cloud services, and the new set of Always Free services that includes two instances of the Oracle Autonomous Data Warehouse or Autonomous Transaction Processing, or a choice of one of each. Compute, additional storage and load balancing are also included. Targeted at new and existing Oracle cloud customers, Oracle Cloud Free Tier is expected to appeal to developers, students and mid- and small-tier businesses, given that it bundles Oracle Application Express (APEX), the company's code-friendly 'low-code' application platform. The set of Always Free services is just that – free forever with no time limits – and is available in all Oracle Cloud data regions.
Infrastructure announcements at OpenWorld included the expansion of Oracle Cloud's interconnectivity deal with Microsoft, a new agreement with VMware pledging mutual workload hosting and support, rapid global deployment of new regions, and an autonomous, self-patching distribution of Linux. The company noted that moving its own operations to its Gen 2 cloud involved behind-the-scenes engineering that is now being applied to automate customer migrations from licensed on-premises environments. Oracle's embrace of partnerships with fellow enterprise IT vendors Microsoft and VMware creates a 'web of incumbency' that joint customers will likely find quite sticky.
The newest entrant to the Exadata line of servers is the X8M, which runs RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE), giving Oracle tenants an Ethernet-based option that Oracle says is even faster than Infiniband. Separately, Gen 2 Exadata Cloud at Customer and Autonomous Database Cloud at Customer will strengthen Oracle's on-premises offerings against the likes of AWS Outposts, Azure Stack and Google Anthos.
Governance and OCI
At 2018's OpenWorld, Oracle announced that cloud data catalog capabilities were being developed. Come 2019, that initial idea – the concept of a metadata layer that enables all users to navigate informational resources within the enterprise – has matured. No longer focused just on technical metadata or technical users, the cloud data catalog in its evolving current iteration promises an intuitive UX (shaped by Oracle's 'Redwood' UX overhaul initiative) where users of all roles can access and leverage relevant data. Similarly, the newly announced, cloud-based Oracle Data Integration Platform (DIP) rests on OCI and provides streamlined data integration capabilities that appeal to a less technical audience, accelerating data-driven initiatives.
Oracle's general availability of CX Unity capitalizes on the industry demand for data-driven experiences across the customer journey. As we predicted, the hype surrounding customer data platforms (CDP) and its maturation toward a customer intelligence platform is in full swing as competing vendors build out their data platform capabilities to create CIP-like capabilities. CX Unity combines online, offline and third-party customer data sources and then applies built-in machine learning to prescribe the optimal experience. Combined with the move to integrate recently acquired Datafox into its B2B campaign orchestration tools, Oracle is looking at data management as the distinguishing value proposition differentiating its CX platform from some of its competitors'.
Doubling down on the ideas behind the Autonomous Cloud, Oracle announced the Maximum Security Zone, which enforces security on every OCI server. While this might sound restrictive, it's also a pragmatic way to prevent the vulnerabilities caused by humans overlooking best practices. The templates are based on typical use cases – API servers accept only HTTP traffic, for instance – with leeway for minor adjustments. Oracle's contention is that for the sake of protecting the cloud, it is time to make security turnkey and mandatory. Given security's complexity, we would expect some customers to be attracted to this model. We will be curious to see whether it catches on with other clouds.