On the way to clinching its TikTok deal, the world’s second-largest software maker strives to catch up with cloud computing rivals and prop up its profile.
Under threat of being banned in the U.S., Chinese-owned video-sharing platform TikTok was forced to form a partnership with an American firm. Its talks with several contenders including Microsoft ended last month in a deal with Oracle and Walmart. Should this deal come to fruition, Oracle would host the app’s data in its cloud, expanding the Silicon Valley IT pioneer’s presence in the cloud computing space and potentially rebooting its brand.
Oracle was founded in 1977, and for the first 20 years or so focused mainly on the relational databases that underlie many corporate applications. After the dotcom crash in the early 2000s it consolidated large portions of the IT industry, acquiring software rivals such as BEA Systems and PeopleSoft, as well as hardware maker Sun Microsystems. The manoeuvre has served Oracle well, as many of its customers remain entrenched. The Economist reports that in its last fiscal year, Oracle made a net income of over $10 billion on revenue of nearly $40 billion.
Nevertheless, technological and market forces demand that Oracle give itself an update. This can be especially difficult for any firm with big, lucrative legacy businesses. Microsoft has been a notable exception. It seized on cloud computing relatively early, launching its Azure cloud platform in 2010. Azure is now one of the world’s top cloud computing services.
To some extent Oracle’s success in what is now old IT slowed its progress to newer technologies like cloud computing. Co-founder, former CEO and current Chief Technology Officer Larry Ellison dismissed it at first. By the time he realized his miscalculation, Oracle’s competitors were far ahead. The company launched Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) in 2016 and thus far has captured only a sliver of a market dominated by Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and others.
Oracle has also slipped behind in databases, historically its core business. In addition to moving to the cloud, database technology has become more specialized and more flexible than the tools offered by Oracle, particularly with the proliferation of open source software. According to Gartner, Oracle’s share of the database market shrunk down to 28% last year from nearly 44% in 2013.
Oracle has its believers, who point to the company’s strong senior leadership, headed by CEO Safra Catz. A company veteran and highly regarded leader, Catz became Co-CEO with Mark Hurd when Ellison stepped down in 2014, and CEO following Hurd’s death last year. Ellison has since focused more on product development, which is considered his strong suit.
Further, Oracle’s cloud offering could enjoy a latecomer advantage. “We did not have to take the circuitous path others had to take to get it right,” said Clay Magouyrk, Executive Vice President of OCI and founding team member of Oracle’s cloud engineering development centre. Magouyrk touts Oracle’s next-generation cloud platform, which he said will offer hundreds of local sub-clouds that allow users to keep their data close to home, which could be required by privacy regulations.
OCI scored a victory in April, when videoconferencing service Zoom chose it to help manage its rapid growth. Clearly sealing the deal with TikTok would elevate Oracle. The app has about 100 million users in the U.S. and spends an estimated $1 billion on cloud computing services annually. Oracle’s own cloud-based applications present yet another opportunity for resurgence.