Oracle Chairman and CTO Larry Ellison was seemingly omnipresent at the annual Oracle OpenWorld conference last week, providing his unique insights on subjects ranging from why autonomous technologies are so fundamentally important to what keeps him engaged after decades in the business.
Here are five highlights gleaned from Ellison’s two jam-packed keynotes and a more intimate Q&A session at the CIO-oriented Leaders Circle event.
1. What’s the Higher Calling of Autonomous Machines?
People who worry that self-driving cars, databases, and other autonomous machines are going to put truckers, cabbies, database administrators, and other people out of work are missing the point, Ellison said several times.
When you’re able to summon a driverless Tesla via Uber a couple of years from now, “the cool thing is not that your Uber bill will be cut in half. The cool thing is that you’re not going to crash,” Ellison said at Leaders Circle, noting that about 40,000 people a year die from traffic accidents—many of them alcohol-related—on US roads and highways. “A Tesla doesn’t drink. It’s not going to make a mistake like that. It’s going to save thousands and thousands of lives.”
He continued: “When this new technology shows up, we won’t even be able to imagine that we ever tolerated 40,000 people a year dying in those cars.”
Likewise, with the introduction last year of the self-patching, self-tuning, self-updating Oracle Autonomous Database, some people say they’re concerned it will put most DBAs out of work. “No, we’re trying to do some of the tedious things they do. We’re trying to automate that so that they can focus on things that are more important in information science, in their business, university, or government agency,” all while allowing for better protection of their companies’ most sensitive data, Ellison said.
“Fundamentally, the world we live in is changing,” he said. “Life is going to be safer. Data is going to be safer. We’re going to do less tedious work and more interesting work because a lot of the routine tasks are going to be automated away.”
Yet people still insist that artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the autonomous systems they make possible will eliminate most everyone’s job. The global economy has gone through much bigger changes in the past, Ellison said, noting that at one time 98% of the population worked on farms growing food and making their own clothing. Now, thanks to automation and other productivity advances, only 2% of the population works on farms—“and that doesn’t mean the other 98% are now out of work,” Ellison said.
2. Why Must Human Error Be Avoided?
Describing the security advantages of the “self-driving” Oracle Autonomous Database during his opening keynote, Ellison cited the “very reasonable position” taken by competitor Amazon Web Services in not accepting responsibility for a recent security breach at one of AWS’s major cloud database customers. AWS attributed that breach to human error by the customer, specifically to a misconfigured firewall.
“Amazon's support policy is very clear: As a customer, you maintain full control of your content and responsibility for configuring access to AWS services,” Ellison said. “That's on you. In Oracle Autonomous Cloud, when you use Autonomous Database, it configures itself.” That is, unlike AWS’s approach, Oracle’s approach helps customers avoid making configuration errors in the first place.
3. Where Is Your Data Safer?
During a Q&A session at Leaders Circle, an attendee asked Ellison why companies should trust a third party such as Oracle to guard their most precious data off premises.
“Let me give you an analogy: Where do you think your money is safer, in your house or in someone else’s bank?” Ellison asked rhetorically.
“We think we’re much better at securing your data than almost anyone else on planet Earth,” he continued. “That’s our full-time job, to make sure your data is encrypted and no one makes a mistake. That’s what we do—we manage data and keep data safe. ….In an era of specialized labor and specialized skills, we should be better at building a data center and managing your data—just like a bank is better at building a vault and guarding your money and keeping track of it, loaning it out, or giving you interest, because they specialize in money management.”
Ellison noted, however, that regulations in different countries forbid some financial, government, and other companies and organizations from putting customer and other kinds of data in the public cloud—the reason Oracle offers Cloud at Customer, giving customers all of the benefits of the public cloud on their own premises. Oracle announced at the conference that starting in mid-2020, it plans to offer a second-generation Cloud at Customer program, which will make it much easier for customers to install and use their Oracle Databases.
4. What’s So ‘Very Interesting?’
During his second OpenWorld keynote, Ellison focused on the company’s fast-growing cloud applications business, extolling the database, analytics, security, integration, and extensibility virtues of its underlying Generation 2 Cloud Infrastructure.
Oracle, he said, now has more than 31,000 Fusion and Oracle NetSuite cloud applications customers—having grown NetSuite’s business considerably since acquiring the cloud pioneer in 2016, and having added 12,000 new Fusion applications cloud customers over the last five years. Oracle, which started rewriting all of its on-premises applications for the cloud a dozen years ago, already is the #1 provider of cloud native finance/ERP and human resources apps and the #2 provider of cloud native customer experience (CX—sales, marketing, customer service, and commerce) apps, Ellison said.
“And this is very interesting,” he said, “that of our Fusion applications customers, three-quarters of them do not have other Oracle applications. It's not that we moved all of our Oracle E-Business Suite customers from on premises to Fusion. We've done some of that, but a lot remains to be done. A lot of these are brand new customers to Oracle Corporation.”
5. What Keeps Ellison So Motivated?
One Leaders Circle attendee asked Ellison, who has been leading Oracle for more than four decades, how he manages to stay so technologically engaged and agile amid the ever-accelerating pace of change.
“It’s very personal. I love my job. I love the people I work with. I have hobbies, but nothing that excites me so much as being part of Oracle, being part of the world marching toward these dramatically new and wonderful technologies,” Ellison said. “I think I’ve stayed engaged because I don’t want to miss anything. It’s like reading a really good book and you never want it to be over. I’m probably more excited today because the length of the lever to move the world is longer than it’s ever been.”
Among the “incredibly complicated problems” Oracle is helping its customers solve: get life-saving drugs to market faster, improve energy efficiency, build smarter cities, grow food more productively, and improve the lives of the poor. “We’re getting closer and closer to being able to solve them,” Ellison said. “You just don’t want to put the book down until you can solve one more problem…then one more problem, and then after that, just one more problem. For me, I can’t think of a better way to live my life than to be engaged in this kind of technological problem-solving with a lot of wonderful, creative people. That’s how I want to live.”