Oracle CEO Mark Hurd claims he doesn’t “really worry so much about” Amazon Web Services. That statement is either profoundly disingenuous or utterly ridiculous. Or perhaps Hurd and Oracle chairman Larry Ellison, who launched this week’s Oracle OpenWorld by fixating on AWS, trying mightily to convince attendees that AWS’s cloud pales in comparison to Oracle’s cloud.
You know, the same Oracle cloud that can’t even muster a Top 10 place in Gartner’s list of leading IaaS providers. For IaaS, Gartner pegs AWS cloud revenues at more than 80X times Oracle’s. Even in the PaaS market, where Oracle has seen more growth—bumping up from 1.1 percent market share to 2 percent in 2016—it’s still just a tenth the size of AWS, which saw its PaaS share boom from 13.7 percent to 19.8 percent in the same period.
It’s only in SaaS, where Oracle has acquired multiple companies and AWS has yet to invest, that Oracle rises above AWS.
Unfortunately for the studiously unconcerned Hurd, it’s only going to get worse, judging on the infrastructure investments that the leading cloud providers—AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform—are making. As Redmonk analyst Rachel Stephens has noted, “The companies that have the highest increase in R&D spending (Amazon and Google) also have the most variety in their product lines.” That variety, along with the “daunting” economies of scale that allow them to profitably charge less for more, promises to continue to put Oracle’s cloud ambitions to the sword, she says.
Is Oracle really investing to win in the cloud?
Despite its paltry market share in the cloud, Oracle keeps trying to erect a Steve Jobsian reality distortion field.
Oracle executives like to take potshots at the leading cloud vendor, AWS, arguing that it’s 99-plus percent uptime guarantee is “not real.” Oracle also claims that its IaaS platform has lower latency than other cloud providers, making it better for high-performance needs. And that its security management tools are better suited for enterprise IT needs, versus the small businesses and startups that purportedly make up AWS’s customer base.
Most recently, Oracle claims its new Oracle 18c database is superior to cloud offerings from AWS because it’s autonomous, cheaper, and higher-performing, and also comes with a Mary Poppins-like twinkle in its eye.
Unfortunately, if you dig beneath Oracle’s cloud database claims, you’ll see that AWS, Microsoft, and Google all offer cloud databases that meet or exceed Oracle’s claims. Including the twinkle.
Across the board, Oracle’s superiority claims are doubly dubious given how comparatively low its cloud investments have been. As Redmonk analyst Stephens notes, “Amazon, Google, and Microsoft all significantly outspend Oracle.” As for AWS, “Amazon’s growth in R&D has significantly outpaced its peers, with its last quarter 2017’s R&D spending more than 300 percent of what it was in early 2013.” This matters because higher R&D spend translates into broader innovation in product portfolios.
On the other hand, Oracle executives like Hurd are fond of dismissing Oracle’s lack of investment in datacenters as immaterial because, well, Oracle and its datacenters are amazing: “If I have two-times faster computers, I don’t need as many datacenters. If I can speed up the database, maybe I need one fourth as many datacenters,” Hurd says. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that cloud newbie Oracle has become dramatically better at custom-building hardware and software at massive scale than AWS, Microsoft, and Google, who have been doing this for years with the best talent on planet Earth. Pass the bong, please?
Is Oracle doomed?
So should Oracle hang up the bankruptcy sign and sell off its assets as the would moves to the cloud? Of course not. Despite its silly bluster, Oracle continues to build great databases and, in particular, has established a solid showing in SaaS. In SaaS, Oracle has acquired its way to 5.6 percent market share in 2016, Gartner estimates, up from 4.2 percent in 2015. By comparison, Microsoft owns 16.3 percent (up from 15.7 percent) and Salesforce 14 percent (down from 14.7 percent). This is a solid base from which Oracle can grow.
And Oracle has real momentum in PaaS. It currently has a mere 2 percent of the marker, but it is growing the fastest of all PaaS providers, with 166.9 percent growth over 2015.
Oracle also benefits by simple math: As fast as AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud can build datacenters, it’s not fast enough. By Apcera CIO Mark Thiele’s estimates, AWS et al. simply can’t keep pace with the demand for public cloud services, leaving Oracle (and others) free to supply the unsatisfied demand. And, no, it doesn’t hurt that there are plenty of enterprises that would like to bridge their existing on-premises Oracle investments to the cloud. (That’s one pitch Oracle does make that actually makes sense.)
True, Oracle’s cloud revenue, while growing, has slowed its overall growth, causing the company’s stock to stumble. And revenue growth has been much stronger in Oracle’s SaaS business (62 percent) than in Oracle’s IaaS business (28 percent). That doesn’t bode well for a company trying to play catchup with the cloud-first natives.
Even so, enterprises move slowly, whether to jettison legacy technology (and its vendors) or to embrace the new. So, Oracle has a long shelf life ahead of it. The question is whether it can invest heavily enough to keep up with AWS and Microsoft, in particular, so that it can both meet and stoke demand for next-generation cloud services.