For those of you following industry cloud adoption -- and trying to figure out how the horse race between the four big players is shaking out -- today's news is certainly worth considering. AT&T is agreeing to move a significant number of their Oracle ...

 

Oracle's Massive Cloud Deal With AT&T and more...

Oracle's Massive Cloud Deal With AT&T

ATTlogoFor those of you following industry cloud adoption -- and trying to figure out how the horse race between the four big players is shaking out -- today's news is certainly worth considering.

AT&T is agreeing to move a significant number of their Oracle databases to the Oracle Cloud. Plus they've agreed to start using some of our SaaS services in specific areas, like field service.

It's a pretty big deal.

I've long argued that moving to a cloud model is inevitable -- even for established and proficient IT organizations like AT&T.

But it's once thing to predict something, and another thing entirely to see it actually happen.

The Basics

On paper, it's pretty straightforward: AT&T's Oracle databases are going to the Oracle Cloud. Mark Hurd said there's over an exabyte involved. 

ExabyteFor those of you that left your storage calculator at home, an exabyte is a thousand petabytes, or a thousand times bigger what we usually consider "really big" in the storage world.

Put differently, that's a million terabytes.  That's a whole lot of on-premises storage that won't be needed anymore.

No revenue numbers were announced, nor were timelines for migration, which I would guess to be rather lengthy. I have no detailed knowledge of the announcement, I just saw the press release like everyone else.

So the rest here is purely my personal opinion and speculation, and certainly not Oracle's official perspective.

But Why Move?

Anyone who's worked with AT&T knows they have a very proficient -- and well-funded -- IT operation. These guys have been designing and deploying massive systems for many decades, and doing it well.

Why would one of the largest -- and most capable -- IT organizations publicly throw in the towel, and say that they're going to cloud with all of their databases?

My first guess is that it's all about business. Being a telco is a capital-intensive business, especially if you're in the midst of building out the next 5G network. Where would you like to tie up your finite capital? More data centers -- or new networks?

My second guess is that anyone who has over an exabyte of data sitting in Oracle databases most likely has an enormous staff with expensive expertise looking after all of that: backup and recovery, patching, tuning, upgrading and the like. Not needed in the cloud. So a huge operational expense saving as well.

Business often matters much more than technology.

But Why Oracle?

Oracle_cloudI sometimes get the question -- why Oracle Cloud for Oracle databases? I have to take a deep breath, and state the obvious -- where better to run the Oracle database? Faster, cheaper, more reliably, more securely, etc.?

Does anyone think you'd get a better experience in some other cloud? I think not.

If that doesn't do it for you, where do you think the best place to run Office 365 might be?  Microsoft Azure.

My third guess is that AT&T did their homework (as they always do), and came to the exact same conclusion.

My fourth guess would be that they found Oracle's Cloud at Customer offering attractive. Cloud at Customer uses Oracle's cloud machines to deliver a public cloud experience in the customer's data center.

Same services, same operational model, same software, management, etc. This would give AT&T the ability to move to a pure opex model, but still make decisions as to where databases actually resided -- our data centers, or theirs.

Some Final Observations

Build-a-cloud-dayOver the last several years, I've met several large IT organizations that were convinced they could build a better cloud internally than was available externally.

Few -- if any -- of these massive efforts could even begin to claim success.

It's been proven to be harder than it looks, takes some very smart people, boatloads of cash, a long time and a tolerance for risk. And the results aren't usually all that good.

I suspect that this might be yet another instance of this phenomenon.

There's something else to consider: this is very likely not just about databases. Moving a database to a cloud is rarely useful in isolation: there are applications that use the data, analytics and reporting, and more. Data gravity and latency are a thing, even for a network company like AT&T.

Highly likely a bunch of that stuff is moving to the Oracle Cloud as well, it's simple logic.

And What To Expect More Of

Cloud has changed the economic equation for business. It's an economizer -- it saves money. It's an enabler -- innovate faster and for less money than before. And it's an equalizer -- small groups have access to the exact same advanced firepower as the largest organizations.

As business leaders start to realize we're now playing by a new set of rules, expect to see more wholesale moves to the cloud.

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The End Of The New Shiny Thing

Shiny thingIf you've been in the IT industry for any time at all, you know how analysts and vendors are perpetually in search of the New Shiny Thing:a brand-new super-cool technology that will change everything.

Big data. In-memory analytics. Internet of things. AI and machine learning. Blockchain. Hyperconverged. Flash.

Buy the research study! Attend the conference! Download the white paper!

Gartner does a good job of putting all the New Shiny Things in perspective with their infamous hype curve. Always a bit sobering to those of us who occasionally get swept away with unbridled enthusiasm.

But I'm here to argue that we'll see a lot less attention paid to new shiny things than we've seen in the past.

Why? These new capabilities will simply become integrated features of the IT services we will already be consuming in the cloud.

It's A Connected World

DatacenterEnterprise IT is a connected world; no technology stands alone and can claim to be useful. Things work with other things to create value.  

Doing that in the data center can be hard, doing that in a modern cloud seems almost trivial by comparison.

As a first, example, let's start with the internet of things: hanging sensors off just about anything that might be useful.

Cool, right?

Well, to be useful, you'll have to gather all that data, reason over it, and act accordingly.

For example, elevators hooked into a field dispatching application. It's the application that matters really, not all the data streaming in.

IoTCould you do it by stitching together various on-prem solutions? Yeah, you could.

But what if you were running SaaS field dispatch and your SaaS vendor also had a nifty IoT PaaS service ready to go?

Putting the pieces together becomes almost trivial.

Also notice that IoT gets a whole lot less shiny and glamorous when it's simply a feature of the application you're using.

As another example, let's consider machine learning. Very cool stuff.

But if you sat down and made a list of all the everyday business processes that could potentially benefit from machine learning, it would be almost all of them. The best price and time to place that purchase order. The candidate most likely to succeed in a given role. Managing inventory. On and on.

Machine learningCould you stitch together some machine learning algorithms with some training data sets and pull something off in your own data center? Yes, you could.

But if you were running SaaS applications and your vendor simply enhanced your business processes by adding a machine-learning recommendation engine, pre-populated with training data sets -- well, wouldn't that be better?

Machine learning becomes a whole lot less shiny and glamorous when it's simply delivered as a feature of the software you're already using.

Take something as familiar as flash storage.  In the data center world, you'd have to put in some serious effort to determine whether it was worth the additional cost.  In the cloud world, you simply provision a flash-based instance and can decide quickly in hours vs. weeks.

BlockchainSame story with blockchain.

Unless it's lashed into the systems of record (e.g. ERP, supply chain, financial apps), its appeal as a standalone technology is limited.

If your SaaS/PaaS vendor was already running your core applications, and had easy-to-use blockchain service, no big deal -- simply stitch a few things together.

The shiny, new thing is always there, ready to be used at a moments's notice.

All the mystery goes out of it.

Cloud SaaS and PaaS Models Change How We Look At New Tech

WorkbenchAs the world shifts to more SaaS and PaaS, something very interesting happens in the tech industry.

The new, cool things we vendors harp on just become a new feature of the stuff people are already using.

The question becomes less "what is this amazing new tech?" and more like "how can this new feature help me?"

If you're a finance professional, you go to a finance show to understand how and where new features might be applied in your world.

Same if you're in HR, marketing or IT.  New, glitzy tech quickly becomes easy-to-use tools in everyone's workbench.

No secret handshake required.

Cloud As A Platform For Business Innovation

FutureproofFully realized, a shift to a SaaS/PaaS model becomes less about economizing IT (although that does happen), it becomes much more about having a platform for business process innovation.

All these modern business processes can be easily enhanced and differentiated simply by applying a rich set of cloud services to specific business situations.  Pick your target and go.

Done strategically, a shift to a SaaS/PaaS model can help future-proof your business. That's a big statement. And one of the big reasons I work for Oracle.

It's a brave new world we're entering.

And new, shiny things won't be what they once were.

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The Cloud Economy

Slide1Economic history is replete with creations that have changed our world.  

From steam power to the internet, human innovation moves forward in great leaps and bounds, thanks to technology.

Here, I present my arguments as to why I believe we are on the threshold of a new economic era: the cloud economy.  

This is not about how we feel about clouds, it's about the cloud's potential to change the nature of the world we live in, perhaps faster than we thought.

Slide2I think it's always useful to start with a quick historical perspective.  Indulge me?

Steam power was invented in 1762. For the first time, you could deliver substantial mechanical power almost anywhere.

It marked the start of the Industrial Revolution, among other things.

As with any innovation, there were plenty of disruptions at hand.

For example, if you were in the stagecoach business, the idea of steam powered trains didn't exactly thrill you.

Slide3About a hundred years later, we started to use steam power to generate electricity. For the first time, power could be consumed at a distance from where it was generated.

This picture is from the 1920s.

If you look carefully, you can see that the gas streetlights have been updated with electric lamps.

Probably not so good for the guy who was selling natural gas.

In the 1950s, we realized that, not only could electricity do great things in the physical world, it could also do great things in the information world.

Slide4The first computers came into use, kicking off another transformation.

This picture is from 1960 where computers were used for the first time in an attempt to "predict" an election.

It didn't work out well back then either.

In the early 1990s, we started to appreciate the power of connecting computers together in one big fabric -- a network of networks -- the internet. As we all know, this was another big step forward.

Which brings us to our current digital era. Just about everything we do: read, eat, shop, relax, work -- has been transformed by the internet.

And there are no signs of anything slowing down.

What Can We Learn From History?

Slide8I want to step back from these events, and see if there are any common patterns we can learn from them.

I think there are a few lessons worth considering.

First, disruption of the established players is the norm. As a familiar example, retail after the internet will never be the same again.

And we can safely say that these economic evolutions are happening at a faster pace. Steam power took about a hundred years to be universally adopted. Electrification, maybe 60 years. Computing, perhaps 20 or so years. The internet? Less than a decade.

Things are coming at us faster than before.

I like to remind people that the iPhone came out about ten years ago. You get tired trying to list off all the different industries that were impacted by a single device.

Think about it: handsets, telecom companies, cameras, nav systems, music on the go -- even watching Netflix on your phone instead of on a TV. All from one device, and all in a very short period of time.

I think of these eras as building blocks, each new one building on the previous ones. Steam power was used to power electricity. Electricity powered computing, which in turned powered the internet.

The other important thing was that the use cases that people quickly came up with were very different from their initial intent.

The first application for steam power was draining water from coal mines. The point is this: that vast waves of innovation inevitably result when these new models come along.

Slide9You'll also notice that consumption as a service has become the preferred model, vs private ownership and consumption.

I think that's for two reasons: one, of course, convenience -- but also structural economics.

For example, in the early history of electrification, some people thought the best way to capitalize on electricity was to build and operate your own powerplant for your own use.

These days, we realize that a shared utility model wins, most every time.

If you dig a little deeper into the stories of people who lived and worked in these times, an interesting picture emerges.

Slide10First, you'll find stories of people I call mobilizers -- people who understood the threat, or the opportunity, or perhaps a bit of both -- and did something about it in their world.

The factory owner who invested in steam power before it was everywhere.

The CFO who invested in computerization back when they were big, expensive beasts.

The marketeer who realized that there was this new thing called social media, and it changed the game.

These mobilizers had to think in terms of new organizational models in a redesigned world. Yes, you still did finance, or marketing, or manufacturing, but you were going to do it differently than before.

And finally, whatever platform they used to run their business had to change as well. In the age of steam power, owning lots of horses and stables didn't make sense like it used to.

What's Next?

Slide11So with that historical perspective in mind, what's next?

I call it the cloud economy.

It builds on what has come before. And I think it marks the beginning of a new historical economic epoch.

The next big thing, if you will.

And not because I happen to work in tech.

If you cut through all the noise, I think there are three big ideas behind cloud.

First, it's an enabler.

Slide12Applications, tools, data, resources -- all there, all ready to be put to all sorts of innovative new uses -- at least, when you put them in the right hands.

Second, it's an economizer.

Even if you don't use it to innovate, it fundamentally changes the cost structure of familiar IT.

Third, it's an equalizer.

In the cloud economy, little guys have just as much firepower as the big guys.  How you feel about that depends on whether you're a little guy, or a big guy.

Slide13If we go back and look at all the other transitions, part of the disruption was that there was a new way to get things done faster and cheaper than before.

In economics, we call this a "new means of production".

In the cloud economy, cloud is the new means of IT production for one simple reason: a shared services model always wins out -- every time.

But there's something even more powerful at work here.

Cloud bends the innovation curve.

Slide14Cloud-native innovation is exponentially faster and cheaper than trying to innovate using traditional IT methods.

And it's easy to see why this is: in the cloud, you've got the very best applications, the very best tools, the very best data sets, the very best infrastructure -- all ready to go at a moments notice.

And entirely new things are possible as a result.

So, how does this impact those of us who are business leaders, and thinking hard about the next thing?

Impact On Business Leaders

Slide16I think most of us are busily re-imagining what our organization's value proposition should look like in a few short years.

Entirely new things are possible -- how will be capitalize on them? Or protect ourselves from others who are also innovating?

Once we have some clear ideas, we'll have to start thinking about transforming the pieces of our organization to adapt and thrive in the new cloud economy.

We'll have to get really good at out-innovating the other guys.

Slide17I think -- in the cloud economy --  people will need a new platform to do business on. The platform you're probably using today was built for a different time, and a very different set of rules.

The last time the world forced this kind of change, it was the internet. I'd argue it's happening again, only faster this time.

And -- at Oracle -- we have a few perspectives about how you might think about your next business platform.

The Oracle Perspective

Slide18Let's start at the top: your application platform. Your business processes are what defines your business as it runs today.

In the cloud economy, your application platform must become a platform for business process innovation.

Doing things in a new way, much faster than before.

Our recipe is conceptually simple: standardize your business around a modern core, extend and innovate around the edges, and position yourself to take advantage of all the great technologies coming our way: AI, internet of things, advanced analytics, chatbots and whatever else is out there.

Slide19We think that a great application platform should be built on a great information platform.

In the cloud economy, information is the new currency.

We will all have to get very skilled at extracting the value from information: ours and others.

We'll need to be able to gather and organize it in all its forms. We'll need to be able analyze and put new insights into action quickly.

And we'll have to do so in such a way that we don't expose ourselves to digital risk.

Slide20And, finally, we'll need cloud infrastructure. Think of it as the modern factory for the cloud economy.

You'll want it to be cost-effective and open. You'll want it to be secure and resilient.

And you'll want to deploy it in any location of your choosing: someone else's data centers, or maybe in your own.

Perhaps you realize something new is in the air, and you've started to think hard about your next business model, and how you're going to capitalize on this generational opportunity.

Oracle's Role

Slide22People ask me why I work for Oracle.  

The answer is simple: we can help leaders thrive in the cloud economy.

We bring the cloud platforms that our customers require for success.

We bring very broad expertise: technology expertise, functional and organizational experise, and vertical industry expertise

And, perhaps the most important thing of all -- we guide leaders in crafting their individual strategies to move forward in the cloud economy.

I would argue that we are in the early days of the cloud economy.  

I wonder how long it's going to take for everyone to figure out that -- once again -- the rules have changed.

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The Cloud Dialogues

Doctor_is_inSeveral years ago, my wife decided to get an advanced degree in psychology, and became a counselor. Along the way, I was duly impressed by the therapeutic power of simply talking about a problem in a constructive manner.

These days, I joke that I've become a "cloud therapist" for many of the enterprise IT leaders I meet. They know they have a big challenge ahead of them, they just need to talk about it.

I've been told the conversations are usually helpful, which is good.

Over the years, some of my most stimulating discussions have been with Dave Vellante, founder of Wikibon. Dave and I feed off of each other quite well: freely challenging each other's assumptions, and getting to the meat of the matter before too long.

And we always have fun.

A while back, we thought it'd be great if we could have these great dialogues in a more public forum. We agreed on a series of four interviews, each approaching the enterprise IT cloud challenge from different perspectives.

Chuck_hollis_cubeIn the first interview I'll want to explore some of the deeper forces behind the move to cloud-like models for enterprise IT. Understanding why a problem exists in the first place is a big part of conquering any challenge.

Our second session will be looking at why existing approaches aren't working well for most enterprise IT groups. My general thesis is that most enterprise IT leaders want to move in a cloud direction, but are finding it much more difficult than it should be.

No surprise, I want to spend a session on what Oracle is doing to close enterprise IT cloud gaps, and have Dave poke holes as he usually does. Dave can be quite the skeptic.

And I want our final interview to explore different journeys enterprise IT organizations are taking to progressively adopt cloud models -- putting the ideas into practice, moving forward and delivering results.

If the past is any indicator, these should be great conversations -- especially if you enjoy point-counterpoint debates.

If this sounds interesting, I'd invite you to join us: "Conquering Enterprise Cloud

Looking forward to seeing you there!

      
 

The End Of Storage As We Knew It

BuildingThis morning, I came across this grim piece from Chris Mellor at The Register, detailing evidence of the violent restructuring in our familiar storage array market.

Call it confirmation bias, but many of us have seen this coming for a while, and have acted accordingly. The numbers have been mediocre for many quarters, but recently the pace seems to be accelerating.

It wasn't all that long ago that storage companies were almost semi-glamorous in the enterprise IT world: EMC, NetApp, HDS, Pure, Nimble, et. al. Great growth all around, and tons of VC flowing into the sector.

What happened? And should we think of this as a temporary aberration, or a permanent structural shift?

The Lure Of Storage

Symms2I decided to join a small storage startup in 1994, moving from Silicon Valley to suburban Massachussets. At the time, EMC was a ~$400 million company with something like 1,600 employees.

I became sold on the idea that -- in the world of computing, information mattered. Capturing, persisting and re-using data was going to be a big deal, so storage was going to be really important.

And I thought standalone storage vendors would have a better strategic positioning than server vendors in this regard.

So I packed up my young family, and off we went on our adventure. It turned out to be a good decision, but nothing lasts forever.

The Last Twenty Years

Info_explosionGenerally speaking, the last twenty years have been good for dedicated storage vendors.

The need to store and protect corporate data has grown rapidly, and there has been no shortage of new technologies that make things better: performance, capacity or functionality.

We had year after year of rosy industry numbers: healthy growth, good margins and wildly optimistic forecasts for countless zettabytes! of future growth.

The growth in information still holds true, it's the consumption model that's changed.

Once again, nothing lasts forever. The familiar model is gone, and it's not coming back.

I think there are three primary reasons we're seeing a structural shift in the storage sector.

1. Opportunities for differentiation are gone.

Early on, storage was difficult enough technologically that there was plenty of room to invest heavily in unique IP and establish differentiation. In addition to secret sauce, things like integration and availability and customer support really mattered to enterprise IT teams.

And, overall, aggregate demand for capacity, performance and functionality exceeded supply, hence overall growth.

Same_sameBut storage technology has matured. The opportunities for secret sauce are now few and far between, and generally quite niche. And once differentiation slows, commoditization kicks in with a vengeance.

New, disruptive technologies aren't the answer because everyone has access to the exact same tech.

For example, how many flash arrays are in the marketplace today? Hyperconverged systems with integrated storage? Cheap, dense storage boxes that do dedupe? As another example, NVMe flash and fabrics are all the rage today, but it won't be long before it's just another checkbox feature.

Without meaningful differentiation, storage (like compute) becomes a race to the bottom. Unless demand for standalone storage skyrockets, the overall market will shrink.  And that demand isn't there.

FWIW, part of Oracle's differentiation in the storage space is unique feature integration with the Oracle Database. The two of them working together do a long list of things that others simply can't. To the extent that differentiation is meaningful to all those Oracle users, it's an advantage.

2. Storage has become part of something else.

CogThere's been a fundamental shift in storage consumption models: storage has become a feature of something else.

I think the trend started in earnest with converged systems, picked up a notch with hyperconverged, and went into full turbo mode with public cloud.

Decades ago, when cars came with crappy sound systems, there was a huge market for aftermarket stuff. Now that most cars come with a decent sound system that's fully integrated, not so much.

This has not been lost on standalone storage vendors. They are in a desperate race to surround themselves with converged (and now hyperconverged) consumption models.

Public cloud is a different story entirely. Not a one of them have figured out to be a meaningful player in any public cloud. And I don't think it's for lack of trying.

At Oracle, we're in pretty good shape in this regard. Our ZFS storage appliance is an integral part of our popular on-premises engineered systems offering. And there's over 600 PB of ZFS storage running in our public Oracle Cloud.

3. Supply exceeds demand.

Ice_cream2When it comes to the ingredients used to build storage arrays,  unit prices have been melting faster than an ice cream cone on a hot summer day.

4TB drives became 6TB and then quickly 8TB and now we're looking at 10TB and 12TB drives. Flash storage started with megabytes, quickly jumped into the gigabyte range and is now safely in terabyte territory.

Fast processing cores are getting cheaper at the same pace. As are wickedly fast interconnects between components, storage and servers. I would argue that supply has exceeded demand, as there's only so much storage capacity and performance a traditional enterprise can consume.

600HP_carThere are only so many flat panel TVs you can put in your house. Or consider the the automotive world, where 300HP+ cars are now commonplace. How many people can justify a 600HP+ car for their daily driver?

OK, myself excepted, but ... good enough is good enough for most folks.

Not only that, thanks to decent storage software, storage array vendors are starting to get cut out of the middle -- adventurous buyers are starting to roll their own.

Witness the success of VSAN, Scality, and others.

What Lies Ahead?

FarewellOne thing is clear: the standalone storage array industry already has its best days behind it.

We are witnessing the end game of a structural industry shift. It will still continue exist as a category, but -- before too long -- we won't be seeing any more Gartner MQs as no one will care as much as they once did.

Unless storage vendors can offer meaningful differentiation, as well as being part of something architecturally bigger (like a public cloud), it's a grim scenario.

You might have noticed that the VC spigot has turned off for on-prem storage array vendors, and the IPO market has not been kind to the new entrants.

Storage *software* companies that have a decent public cloud angle might still be an opportunity though. Or not.

It was a nice run, but nothing lasts forever.

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