Oracle Changes the Changing Database Game

I am preparing a market landscape report about the many, comfortably over 20, not-only-SQL commercial database options available in the market. By not-only-SQL I mean databases that do not fit neatly into the classic RDBMS category; classic RDBMS includes product lines such as Oracle Database (11g and predecessors), IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, Sybase SQL Server (SAP), mySQL (Oracle), etc.

The not-only-SQL category spans a wide variety of databases types often designed to take advantage of cloud, virtualization, and the declining cost and increasingly speed of memory. The not-only-SQL databases are optimized for specialized application and deployment use cases, such as graph analytics, big data analytics, document-centric apps, database-as-a-service, and super speedy scale-out OLTP.

The idea that classic RDBMS seems overripe for disruption has caught fire with data management entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. So far, 14 of the not-only-SQL suppliers that will be profiled in the market landscape report depend mainly on venture funding. Some reasons often cited for the vulnerability of classic RDBMS include the relatively old age of classic RDBMS technologies, the plump margins of classic RDBMS vendors such as Oracle which boasts around 80% gross margin, big data, and the explosion of Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 style apps.

The classic RDBMS databases have never been under such an attack from so many sides of the industry. Ironically, direct proof comes from the classic RDBMS vendors themselves, who also offer databases beyond the classic RDBMS. Database bellwether Oracle, for example, offers two databases that could likely be categorized into the not-only-SQL segment, an in-memory optimized option known as Oracle TimesTen, and its own key-value pair data model offering called Oracle NoSQL Database.

Make no mistake about it though, unlike Sun with Linux, Nokia with smartphones, or Digital Equipment Corporation with PCs, Oracle seems wholly prepared to deal with the not-only-SQL attack. The riposte from Oracle, however, does not come from trying to offer the top not-only-SQL variants in the market, after all, that would be Oracle playing on a new field of engagement with rules dictated by others. Instead, Oracle has redefined the field of play of enterprise database, which Oracle largely defined in the first place.

New rule number one adds a coming-in-2013 database-as-a-service in the form of multitenant Oracle Database 12c, and yes, the "c" stands for cloud. New rule number two adds an in-memory pumped-up Oracle Exadata X3 series database appliance which takes dead aim at the leading MPP and in-memory analytics databases and platforms, plus appliances thereof, like SAP's Hana, Teradata's Aster, EMC's Greenplum, IBM's Netezza, HP's Vertica, and ParAccel. Oracle combines these first two new rules in that Oracle Exadata will sit in the Oracle Cloud background, humming away, though ostensibly in a cloud database you shouldn't care what the infrastructure is, only that it works from a software perspective and meets your use case-specific scale, availability, security, and performance requirements.

New rule three is a pure recycling of the first and only rule from the original set of enterprise database market rules, which is the database you will use in all of these cases remains the classic RDBMS Oracle Database. That means you do not throw away SQL expertise. It means you do not throw away your DBA processes and tools if you are an Oracle shop. In a sense, Oracle has used a mainframe era approach to deal with the elderliness of its classic RDBMS—it has thrown hardware at the problem. It isn’t quite that simple, however, because in the case of Oracle 12c, a huge R&D effort was required to develop the database container software.

Oracle's overall message here: Take that all you nouvelle not-only-SQL and/or MPP options; you thought you could outperform Oracle's classic RDBMS in Enterprise 2.0 and Big Data analytics use cases, particularly in historically Oracle database shops? Let's see how you do running against Oracle Exadata, whether on-premise, public cloud or private cloud.

But Oracle's most important, and final, new rule has to do not just with protection of customer base, but with expansion into customer wallet, carrying long-term market share implications. That rule is "database consolidation." In short, if an Oracle shop consolidates its databases on Oracle Exadata and/or on Oracle Cloud—be that public or private using Oracle Database 12c—it makes dislodging the Oracle Database from the enterprise even more difficult. It also makes it easier to decide to choose Oracle Database for your next database, since you have already invested in the hardware infrastructure and/or Cloud optimized for Oracle Database.

I frankly believe Oracle's moves unveiled at Oracle OpenWorld this past week in the database market, a market in the midst of upheaval, are quite brilliant, and will prove absolutely key going forward for not only protection of base, but also strategic market expansion for Oracle. Despite Oracle changing its tagline from "the database company" to "hardware and software, engineered to work together," database remains its calling card for more enterprises than any other product line. Database also remains Oracle's primary control point in the market—apps and particularly middleware certainly help—but more of Oracle's threat and opportunity rests on the back of the database.

I do not know who deserves the credit, maybe Andy Mendelsohn who runs database development and product management, chief corporate architect Ed Screven, Thomas Kurian who runs product development overall at Oracle, Mr. Ellison himself, or CFO Safra Catz, or some combination of these plus underlings or other executives? Your guess is as good as mine, probably better than mine. Despite the crafty moves, questions remain about ecosystem—how much will customers want to buy even more into the Oracle "red stack?" But regardless, Oracle has taken the Cloud threat, the not-only-SQL threat, plus the fresh challenge of selling hardware, and using primarily database consolidation as the trump card, turned these threats and challenges into potentially game-changing opportunities.

Topics: Data Platforms, Analytics, & AI Cloud Services & Orchestration