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Burning question for Oracle: What’s your response to Amazon?

Larry Ellison, chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle. Larry Ellison, chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle.
Larry Ellison, chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle. Toru Yamanaka/AFP—Getty Images

For the past year, Oracle (ORCL) has talked a big game in cloud computing, although details on how exactly it intends to combat incursions by Amazon Web Service remain unclear.

Oracle has offered big bucks to lure top talent from cloud competitors and it claims customer wins against companies like Salesforce (CRM)and Workday (WDAY)at least when it comes to software applications delivered as a subscription service. What it hasn’t delivered yet is a ton of detail on true pay-as-you-go Amazon-style infrastructure that customers can turn off and on as needed.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) leads the market for public cloud services, which let companies rent computing power, networking and storage by the hour. These resources run in massive Amazon (or Google or Microsoft or IBM) data center farms and are shared by the customers, which makes them more affordable than the customer having to expand its existing data center or even build additional facilities.

This model has taken the world by storm, putting legacy technology providers, like Oracle, Dell, HP(HPQ), IBM(IBM), and Microsoft(MSFT) at risk if they cannot adapt to it.

Oracle fields a cloud team in Seattle that includes former Microsoft (MSFT) Azure executive Prashant Ketkar and others. Last year, it hired Peter Magnusson, the former Google(GOOG) App Engine guru as senior vice president of cloud, but has kept quiet otherwise except for broad statements about how the company is taking on Amazon (AMZN) Web Services.

Hopefully that silence will break at Oracle OpenWorld 2015 this week and we’ll hear more from executive chairman Larry Ellison, and co-ehief executive officers Mark Hurd and Safra Catz, about how, exactly, Oracle plans to contend with the threat from Amazon. Ellison, co-founder, chief technology officer and executive chairman of Oracle, is slated to deliver the first of two planned keynote speeches Sunday night.

According to this Oracle web page, the company’s bread-and-butter database is offered as “a metered service” by the month or by the hour. It is unclear, however, if those options are broadly available now. An attempt to chat with an online sales person was unsuccessful this weekend. But hey, it was the weekend. (Kidding here, sort of.)

So Oracle either now offers or plans to offer database services by the hour. That would compete with Amazon’s Relational Database Service (RDS). Will the company also offer similar options for plain old computing? Unclear but given the presence of Magnusson, Ketkar, and the addition of other cloud techies from Nimbula and Nebula over the past few years, it seems inevitable. And here’s betting that the company will tout its own high-end Exadata or Exalogic hardware as the building blocks to that public cloud.

One thing is sure: Amazon is focused on Oracle customers and there is opportunity there given that many of those accounts are irked by Oracle’s pricing, licensing and software audit policies.

AWS execs have said repeatedly over the past few weeks that Amazon Aurora, a MySQL clone database, is now the fastest-growing product in the company’s history. Aurora competes with Oracle’s MySQL. And, they noted that before now, RedShift, Amazon’s data warehouse product that also targets Oracle, was the fastest-growing product. Not that there’s any way to check those figures.

And at AWS Re:Invent a few weeks ago, Amazon announced a database migration tool to help customers move their database tables more easily from on-premises servers to one of Amazon’s RDS database options. To be fair, those options do include Oracle database running on AWS.

Whatever you think of Amazon’s claims, they clearly got Oracle’s attention as evidenced by Thomas Kurian’s comments on Bloomberg Markets Friday. Asked about Amazon’s database forays, Kurian, who president of product development for Oracle, was dismissive.

“The database underlying their new announcement is MySQL and it’s been around for 20 years. It’s not like they wrote it. They took it and stood it up on their cloud. And the migration tool they talked about, well people have talked about that for years and years. It’s very hard to do technically,” said Kurian.

Asked by Bloomberg if he was saying Amazon could not do this, Kurian added: “They can’t do it.”

Kurian also noted that 70% of the customers now using Oracle cloud products had never bought from Oracle before. He did not provide any customer names.

So, here’s hoping that this week Ellison, Hurd, Catz and Kurian will shed more light on what AWS-like services are available now from Oracle and what’s coming down the pike. Because, much to the chagrin of traditional tech companies like Oracle, AWS is leading the pack and it’s time for the pack to respond with actual services.

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