Oracle's Mark Hurd builds a cloud arsenal to take on Amazon
REDWOOD SHORES, Calif. — Oracle is preparing to intensify its reach for the cloud.
In an interview with USA TODAY here, company CEO Mark Hurd laid out its latest battle plan, laying down the gauntlet to rivals Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Salesforce. "They can say what they want, but our strategy and momentum are irrefutable — we are the fastest-growing cloud company at scale," he said when asked about Amazon and recent criticism.
Bravado and fighting words aren't new to the $183 billion-market cap company, which minted money in the 1990s and 2000s by aggressively inking deals for database services and sales analytics with America's premier corporations. Then along came cloud computing, a revolutionary technology that offered flexibility, discounts, and a break from multi-year enterprise software contracts — the backbone of Oracle's revenue machine.
Led by Oracle co-founder and executive chairman Larry Ellison, the company belatedly plunged into cloud computing, ginning up the rhetoric — and sinking money into acquisitions — to fight rivals for the $60.3 billion market in the U.S.
This week at a conference in Las Vegas, it plans to expand the geographic and business reach of its newly acquired NetSuite cloud business, as well as release a human-resources software product. It'll add new artificial intelligence and chatbot capabilities to its suite of customer experience applications that support commerce, marketing, sales and service professionals.
Separately, NetSuite is more than doubling its data center footprint to 11 and adding Oracle data centers in Frankfurt, Australia, Singapore, Japan, China and Chicago.
The future for Hurd, a famed salesman snapped up by Ellison after Hewlett-Packard ousted him, may hang on whether Oracle can use its deep pockets and corporate relationships to make that turn.
Its rivals aren't holding back.
Six months after Ellison boasted "Amazon's lead is over," Amazon Chief Technology Officer Werner Vogels last week ridiculed "old world" legacy companies — a shot against companies like Oracle and Microsoft — for what he called "punitive" licensing practices. Vogels claimed customers have migrated 23,000 databases from those "old" companies to Amazon.
Microsoft, engaged in its own high-stakes transformation away from software licensing revenues, is also gunning for Oracle. For a year, its SQL Server has been advertising a roadmap to how customers can "break free from expensive Oracle solutions that hassle you with mysterious, frustrating pricing plans and surprise add-on fees."
Hurd joined the fray in February at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco, when he called Amazon's infrastructure "old" and praised his company's as "newer and fresher."
Amazon and Microsoft had no comment on Oracle's latest cloud moves.
There is a method behind the saber rattling: Oracle's future and relevance is pinned on its ability to become a bigger player in cloud. The company's revenue has been near flat the past four years as major businesses migrate to cloud-based alternatives and software-as-a-service, and away from software licenses.
As the world leader in database software, Oracle argues, it has an advantage in the all-important market for corporations to parse reams of data floating in the cloud. But it entered the cloud market late and trails Amazon ($20 billion in projected 2017 cloud-related revenue), Microsoft ($12.3 billion), IBM ($11 billion) and Salesforce ($9.3 billion), according to Forrester. Oracle is projected at $5.6 billion this year.
"They’re not moving fast on cloud. Where are the new developers?" said John Rymer, an analyst at Forrester. "The developers who show up at Oracle World are established partners. Amazon and Microsoft are spurring much more interest."
The business opportunity for cloud computing is immense. About 30% of 6,200 corporations from 31 countries are spending on cloud solutions, according to research firm IDC. The figure is expected to jump to 43% in 24 months as big business migrate to the technology for competitive reasons.
The cloud battle is in its "early days" but Oracle's position is "strong" because of it has a “founder’s” advantage — somebody like Ellison who can prioritize this transition above all else and push for strong execution," says Robert Mahowald, an analyst at market researcher IDC. It also boasts applications, a database business and storage products to give it a well-rounded offering, he says.
Then there is the Trump Factor.
Oracle, a government contractor, is one of the few tech companies with an apparently cordial relationship with the president, who has angered the industry with his stances on immigration and H-1B work visas while antagonizing executives with tweets.
The company's other CEO, Safra Catz, was a member of Trump's transition team and was asked to serve on his business advisory council.
"Oracle is a global business. We are pro-growth and pro- policy that supports the interests of our customers and employees,” Hurd said, when asked about the company's relationship with Trump. He said 65% of the company's revenue comes from outside the U.S.
Oracle's tech transformation
For now, the obsessive focus is on tech transformation at Oracle's waterside headquarters here, where a trimaran used by Oracle Team USA to win the 33rd America’s Cup in 2010 in Spain is docked.
As corporate makeovers go, this one has made a good start to the year.
Oracle has parlayed acquisitions — it acquired cloud start-up NetSuite for $9.3 billion last year, its largest cloud-related purchase — to accelerate its transformation. The purchase of NetSuite, in particular, helped Oracle gain traction in the cloud market, highlighting the importance of investments and acquired assets to offset slackening revenue elsewhere, said Scott Kessler, director of equity research at CFRA Research.
Oracle's cloud revenue in its recently-completed fiscal third quarter comprised 13% of total sales, compared with 8% in the same quarter a year ago. Still, that's a sliver of its bread-and-butter business: Oracle's traditional on-premise revenue was 67% of all sales, compared with 70% a year ago.
The sales gains were enough, however, to pop the company's stock, Kessler said. Oracle shares are up 16% in 2017, out-pacing the S&P 500 and rivals Microsoft and IBM.
A necessary step to maintain momentum, Hurd told USA TODAY, is growth. Oracle intends to expand NetSuite, with its strong stable of mid-market customers, to Germany, Japan and elsewhere over the next 18 months. Oracle also is on track to spend a record $5 billion-plus on research and development this year.
"Whenever you go into these big transitions, you change a lot of things," Hurd said. "We're spending more on R&D, changing the way we sell and opening more data centers" (for the cloud). And we're coming out of this quite well."
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