During the dot-com boom in the 1990s, thousands of companies competed to become category leaders. Only a few were successful. Throughout all the jostling, however, the infrastructure providers -- such as Cisco (CSCO) and Oracle (ORCL) -- always came out ahead, regardless of how the markets changed. Simply put, the dot-coms needed routers and databases.
It looks like the same scenario is playing out again, this time in the cloud. In cloud computing, companies share Internet technologies to manage accounting, sales leads, inventory, costs and so on. It is often cheaper since a company does not have to buy servers or hire expensive consultants. Besides, companies only pay a subscription for the cloud services, which makes things even more affordable.
Already, there are clear leaders in cloud computing, like Salesforce.com (CRM) and NetSuite (N). But at the same time, the infrastructure players are also getting a nice boost -- and this, of course, includes Oracle.
Oracle Moves Into the Cloud
Over the years, Oracle has transformed its business through acquisitions. As part of this strategy, it has become a dominant player in enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, which manages the core accounting and financials of a company.
ERP is not necessarily a growth business -- at least for the large market segment -- but it generates steady cash flows. After all, what company wants to uproot its system? It's usually a very bad idea -- and costly.
But in the meantime, Oracle has spent billions on improving its infrastructure products. Deals for companies like Sun and BEA have provided the company with solutions for middleware, security and servers. These are critical elements for data centers, which are at the center of cloud computing. After all, this is where the processing occurs.
So it should be no surprise that at this week's Oracle conference, CEO Larry Ellison has been pumping up the cloud. And he is clear that his company will be the leader.
In fact, Oracle announced the introduction of Exalogic, a high-end machine that has all the necessary requirements for setting up a cloud platform. Since everything is integrated, the maintenance and costs should be competitive. What's more, Oracle's aggressive sales team will certainly find ways to get its huge installed base to buy-up the Exalogic solution.
Of course, other major infrastructure players -- like Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), CA Technologies (CA) and IBM (IBM) -- are also spending big bucks on acquisitions to benefit from the cloud. So far, the targets have been in storage and data warehousing, like 3Par and Netezza. No doubt, there will be more deals and the valuations will remain frothy.
But Oracle still has a unique advantage: its database business. It is a huge cash generator and provides the company with a solid foothold in many companies. This leverage will make it much easier for Oracle's cloud ambitions and provide it with a long-term growth ramp.
No wonder Mark Hurd went to Oracle after departing HP.