A lot of people might have thought Oracle’s announcement of the
autonomous database at last year’s OpenWorld and its subsequent release
earlier this year were the whole story, but there’s a lot more, and
Tuesday’s webcast featuring Larry Ellison was proof.
Ellison must find his CTO role — since he handed the CEO reins to
Safra Catz and Mark Hurd — to be stimulating and liberating at the same
time. Being CTO gives Ellison the ability to be highly creative in a
part of the industry that plays to his strengths. It’s a highly
technical field where few septuagenarians make a mark, and it gives him
access to lots of smart people to trade ideas.
His evident joy was on display Tuesday as he introduced the second
part of the autonomous database. The announcement this spring focused on
autonomous data warehousing, or ADW. Tuesday was all about autonomous
transaction processing, or ATP.
Oracle vs. Amazon
Some of the messaging was the same: The database provisions, maintains
and repairs itself, for example. “There’s nothing to do,” Ellison said
more than once, suggesting that database administrators’ jobs surely
will be redefined by the announcement.
Nothing to do extends to nothing to break, and an embedded expert system very well might do a better job than the average DBA.
Toward the end of his talk, Ellison showed a graphic that provided
all the proof you might need to accept the efficacy of the automation.
It involved the NetSuite database. After 20 years, it has been well
refined — yet even for it, the expert system found ways to improve
The autonomous database is an important economic milestone of sorts
too. Database technology solidified in the 1970s and there has been
little progress in automating the tasks of keeping a database operating —
Automation, which this product offers in spades, is a sign that we’re
late in the life of a disruptive innovation (i.e., the relational
database). It’s a sign of commoditization, and an indicator that we’re
dealing with the biggest quantities — and market share is essential for
That’s why I think Ellison took such delight in making invidious comparisons between Oracle’s database and Amazon’s.
A Few Caveats
Amazon has a market share lead, and Oracle badly wants to reverse the
situation. That’s why there’s so much emphasis on price and performance.
For example, Oracle has introduced a guarantee that it can lower a
customer’s Amazon bill by half, and Ellison has boasted that his
database competitors all use Oracle for their own data.
There’s no doubt this market has been commoditizing, and that only
the biggest and most efficient producers will survive. Naturally, Oracle
and Ellison expect to be in the winner’s circle.
It takes more than software to deliver the 99.995 percent up time
promised. All of the autonomous database functionality requires Exadata
hardware, and because it is fault tolerant, multiple servers are at the
In the cloud configuration supported by Oracle data centers,
customers experience serverless conditions — meaning that when the
database is not in use, it uses no server time and incurs no server
costs. Oracle also has made provisions for big customers that can afford
all of the hardware and who wish to keep all data processing in-house.
That said, the autonomous database represents a new era in IT, in
which the default position is cloud. The assumption is that business
will be unimpeded, or at least less impeded, by IT systems that are slow
or hard to change.
With the full release of the autonomous database and its associated
security capabilities announced earlier this year, we’ve reached the end
of the line for common legacy applications. They will be around for
years, but it’s hard to see how very many new ones will be made or sold
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