Data Centers

Why Oracle and Microsoft are obsessing over smaller tech competitors

Oracle and Microsoft are trying to ape smaller competitors. But only one is likely to succeed.

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Image: iStockphoto/cacaroot

The clearest sign that you're losing to a particular competitor is when you obsess over them. This happens all the time with smaller startups fighting over scraps, but it's particularly interesting when big companies go after much smaller competitors. Two recent examples are Microsoft's targeting of MongoDB and Oracle's fetish for Amazon Web Services (AWS).

All your users belong to us

Microsoft Azure has stormed the cloud scene, quickly establishing itself as a clear and present danger to AWS. Given how much others have stumbled (see below for more on that), it's refreshing to see Microsoft succeed.

Which is why it's a little baffling that the hegemonic Microsoft would see need to go after MongoDB, a Lilliputian-sized competitor.

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That blog post was written in the wake of a MongoDB security breach (or, rather, a breach of lots of developers deciding not to implement MongoDB's security features), and more recently Microsoft has come out in support of MongoDB's wire protocol. This basically means that Microsoft is piggybacking on MongoDB's broad community support: Developers can use MongoDB's familiar toolchain and client drivers and have the data shipped into Azure's DocumentDB.

In other words, it's a strategy for co-opting MongoDB's success.

SEE: MongoDB and Cassandra put relational databases on notice

It's not particularly novel. IBM did the same thing back when I worked at MongoDB. The difference, however, is that IBM partnered with MongoDB to enable the integration. In the case of Microsoft, it has apparently opted to go it alone without MongoDB's help. Fair enough. It's not a bad strategy, and Microsoft may end up monetizing MongoDB's popularity more efficiently than MongoDB has, but it still feels odd to have an enterprise software giant rifling through the scraps of a much smaller company's success.

And yet, this strategy feels more credible than Oracle's campaign against AWS.

I wanna be just like you

Oracle used to only talk about Oracle on its earnings calls. Now it just talks about AWS.

Read through its latest earnings transcript and AWS gets mentioned more than any other competitor, and by a significant margin. More worrisome for Oracle investors, chairman and CTO Larry Ellison seems to believe that the ability to run Oracle's own technology on Oracle's own cloud is a compelling, long-term differentiator. As he said on the earnings call:

Generation 2 of Oracle's infrastructure-as-a-service cloud now has the ability to run our customers' largest databases, something that is impossible to do using Amazon Web Services. Amazon can only run relatively small Oracle databases in their cloud.

Gen2 of Oracle IaaS also delivers ultra-high database performance, and solve tolerant reliability in the cloud. Many Oracle workloads now run 10 times faster in the Oracle cloud versus the Amazon cloud. It also costs less to run Oracle workloads in the Oracle cloud than the Amazon cloud.

Meanwhile, the fastest-growing products in AWS history are...databases. Not Oracle's, to be sure, but that's the point: Look at where data is going, and new workloads are going to NoSQL, to cloud vendors, to modern databases built for modern data. Oracle built a fantastic database, but it's a database architected for yesterday's datacenter-bound data, neatly packaged into rows and columns. A look at the last few years of Oracle's moribund earnings is testament enough to this shift.

SEE: Oracle is not a cloud power (ZDNet)

This is a battle that Oracle simply can't win. It can't compete on price with an AWS or Google, nor can it compete on innovation. Sure, it can keep loading up its database with legacy customer-pleasing innovations (Innovator's Dilemma style) even as more agile, cloud-savvy competition like AWS Aurora or Google Spanner pounds it into submission.

Ellison can brag all he wants about how much he can optimize the Oracle database for Oracle's cloud, but most of the planet doesn't care about Oracle's cloud. Microsoft has the good sense to co-opt MongoDB's success. It doesn't look like that option is open or even palatable to the once indomitable Oracle.

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About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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