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Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said the 12c will serve as the "foundation of a modern cloud" when it was announced last year.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said the 12c will serve as the “foundation of a modern cloud” when it was announced last year.

Oracle’s first multitenant relational database, Oracle 12c (the ‘c’ is for cloud), was punted into general availability this week. But with the future of the company being bet on its ability to bring its core database solutions into the cloud and big data era, some are beginning to doubt whether Oracle can maintain its leadership in the segment.

First announced last summer, Oracle 12c (the ‘c’ is for cloud) consists one of the most significant architectural transformations in the history of the company’s database portfolio.

The 12c introduces a multitenant architecture that effectively divides the Oracle Database architecture and implementation into two primary parts, known as multitenant container databases (CDB) and pluggable databases (PDBs), a first for Oracle. A PDB is the part of the system that contains the actual data needed by an application. The CDB is a single point that contains the actual runtime that supplies services to the PDBs like backup, resource allocation and the like.

It effectively allows database administrators to treat all PDBs as one database, but at the same time, this separation allows for much more flexible resource allocation and management. DBAs can prioritise different PDBs for applications and queries; backup and patching can be applied centrally; the system uses significantly less memory than standalone databases; and it supports adaptive execution, to name a few of the updates. It’s also added in-memory capabilities.

In other words, the system has been suped-up for the big data era. Andrew Mendelsohn, executive vice president of Oracle Database Server Technologies said the company is effectively responding to this challenge.

“As the cloud, mobile devices, and the web send larger volumes of data into the enterprise, organizations are challenged to manage this data efficiently and cost-effectively,” Mendelsohn said.

“With the added firepower of Oracle Database In-Memory now available, customers can instantly gain the competitive advantage of the real-time enterprise with the flip of a switch.”

But even when the 12c was announced last year some took a sceptical view of the company’s attempt to make a splash with the new architecture. For instance, respected data warehouse expert and blogger Rob Klopp, who now works as an evangelist for SAP’s HANA division said despite some significant improvements to the core platform he didn’t see any of the 12c’s major features significantly changing Oracle’s competitive position in the data warehouse market.

“If you run a data warehouse flat-out you will not likely plug it elsewhere… the amount of data to move will be daunting,” he said. “The adaptive execution plan feature will improve performance for a small set of big queries… but not enough to matter in a competitive benchmark.”

Others have more recently hit out at the company for its inability to make its licensing models cloud-friendly. According to Oracle’s price list the in-memory option, which is turned on by default in enterprise edition distributions of the 12c, costs $23,000.

Joe Kim, managing director of TmaxSoft UK said Oracle’s size, puzzling licensing models, and complicated implementation processes are starting to help drive more competition in the enterprise software market.

“Oracle has been dominating the market for decades, making it near-impossible for smaller companies to compete despite the significant benefits they could offer,” he said.

Kim explained that with little competitive pressure Oracle has been able to grow to an almost unsustainable size, which has impacted its ability (some would say, willingness) to effectively serve its customers by imposing overly complex and excessively expensive solutions.

“As the company is so big, customers experience a slow process when asking for help. Performance problems – such as inconsistent configuration settings, low-memory situations and slow database response times – take a while to solve and this has a big impact on business productivity.”

“Faced with complicated licensing structures, businesses risk unexpected fines and normally end up heavily over-compensating by paying for irrelevant licenses,” he added.

But Philip Howard, a research director with Bloor research said that this is changing, as others in the database management world rise to challenge incumbents like Oracle with multitenant services that sit well in virtualised and containerised environments.

“Alternatives to Oracle make sense from both a commercial and technical point of view,” Howard said. “One of the major problems is that Oracle was designed almost half a century ago: it has a lot of software in it that was designed to compensate for the hardware deficiencies of the 80s and 90s.”

“As a result Oracle, and other relational databases of a similar age, are too complex, have a footprint that is too large, require too many resources, and are more likely to fail. That is why we have seen the rise of so-called NewSQL databases,” which are more elegant and consistent than traditional SQL databases, he said.

Oracle, for all its (until fairly recently) resistance to cloud-centricity and change more broadly, is still clearly the leader in the commercial relational database management space. But it has also ceded ground to companies like Microsoft, IBM, SAP, and Teradata among others, as well as newer relational database architectures like PostgreSQL, which has been adopted by Salesforce among others (Oracle of course hit back with deals of its own with NetSuite, Microsoft and Salesforce).

Oracle is hoping to change all that with the 12c, but that remains to be seen.

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