Can Oracle catch up in the Cloud?

The company has 24 new offerings but plenty of challenges to overcome

Larry Ellison speaks at the Oracle Cloud Platform launch June 22, 2015

Larry Ellison speaks at the Oracle Cloud Platform launch June 22, 2015

Oracle has finally arrived in full form at the Cloud party, and it's clearly hoping to make up for lost time.

Chairman and CTO Larry Ellison showed up bearing gifts in the form of no fewer than 24 new platform and infrastructure services, and he sang a tune vastly different from the one he belted out so dismissively just a few years ago.

"This was what we might call Oracle's 'all in on the cloud' moment -- it was a shot across the bow," said John Rymer, a vice president with Forrester Research. "Because Ellison spent so much time denigrating the cloud, people don't believe him. That's why Oracle did this dramatic thing."

There's no denying it was a turnaround for the company. As traditional revenues wane, however, the question is whether it's enough.

"It's not too late," Rymer said.

Part of the reason for the delayed timing is that for a long time, relatively few Oracle customers were moving to the Cloud - particularly those on the applications side, Rymer said.

SAP faces a similar situation, he added. "Apps customers don't tend to adopt new things as fast as others do."

Nevertheless, "I think they've got a great opportunity to help customers get the flexibility and speed benefits that are available from the Cloud," Rymer said. "Hopefully, they'll do that."

Oracle has a lot of catching up to do, but it would be foolish to count it out, agreed Frank Scavo, president of Computer Economics. "Oracle has tremendous resources and a large installed base into which it can sell its cloud services," he said.

The fact that Oracle's Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings allow developers to use the same tools that they use for on-premises development is a competitive differentiator and will be attractive to IT shops that have already standardized on Oracle technologies, Scavo added.

Oracle's aggressive pricing is also attractive, noted Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT. "Oracle certainly has the enterprise technology assets and experience to make these services work," King said.

Oracle's positioning, however, isn't entirely clear.

Ellison made a big point of zeroing in on Amazon as its key competitor in the cloud space, but potential Oracle Cloud customers are very different from Amazon's, and they face very different problems, Rymer pointed out.

"Amazon's services are not well-suited to Oracle's base," which tends to be less generic and more technical, he explained. For example, "Amazon is not going to provide SaaS [Software as a Service] to match up with the apps customers are using from Oracle."

Companies like Oracle and SAP have a real chance to serve more technical workloads, focusing on core business processes, he said.

"I continue to find it very, very odd that Oracle chooses AWS as a competitor and wants to compete on infrastructure services," Rymer said.

Infrastructure services offer low margins and are "a race to the bottom," he said. "Oracle wouldn't get to Amazon's scale for long time."

Instead, Oracle should be competing with Salesforce, IBM, SAP and to some degree Microsoft, he said.

Amazon focuses on selling to line managers, but Oracle focuses on selling to IT, agreed Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group.

It's possible Oracle's focus on Amazon reflects a shift in strategy, but since that wasn't officially articulated, it could also have little basis in fact, Enderle said.

Oracle has "a history of being creative with their claims," he noted. "It is always prudent to take them with a grain of salt."

One thing, however, is clear: Oracle is now serious about the Cloud and will likely do what's needed to ensure the effort's success, Enderle said.

Indeed, as 18th century British author Samuel Johnson famously noted, "the imminent prospect of being hanged concentrates a man's mind wonderfully," said Pund-IT's King.

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