- Ariel Kelman became Oracle’s new chief marketing officer in January, when he took on a tough challenge: changing the view that Oracle missed the industry-wide shift towards the cloud.
- Kelman is in a familiar role. He once led marketing efforts at Amazon, which had been dismissed in enterprise tech before it emerged as the dominant player in the cloud.
- “There’s parallels, you know,” he told Business Insider. “In 2011, a lot of people questioned: ‘What? Amazon as an IT infrastructure for the enterprise? Come on.’ This happens in the technology industry all the time.”
- Kelman’s job is to highlight Oracle’s big cloud offensive which he says is bound to cause another wave of disruption enterprise tech. “There’s more than enough time for us to build a meaningful share in the market,” he said.
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Ariel Kelman, who became Oracle’s new chief marketing officer in January, has one of the toughest jobs in technology: changing the perception that the software giant missed the cloud, and that it ended up being a minor player in the hottest trend in corporate IT.
But it’s a familiar role for Kelman who had led marketing efforts at another company that was once belittled and dismissed in enterprise tech: Amazon.
“There’s parallels, you know,” he told Business Insider. “In 2011, a lot of people questioned: ‘What? Amazon as an IT infrastructure for the enterprise? Come on.’ This happens in the technology industry all the time.”
Before joining Oracle, Kelman had been a top marketing exec for eight years at Amazon, the e-commerce giant that unexpectedly became the market leader in cloud computing, with its Amazon Web Services division outmaneuvering traditional corporate IT giants, including Oracle.
Now, Oracle, led by CEO Safra Catz and founder Larry Ellison, is mounting a big cloud counteroffensive aimed squarely at Amazon. Kelman, who helped lead marketing efforts for Amazon Web Services during its meteoric rise from 2011 to early this year, was brought in to help highlight Oracle’s cloud story.
It won’t be easy.
How Amazon became king of the cloud
While Oracle is a player in cloud applications, it lags rivals in the critical cloud infrastructure market, which is dominated by Amazon, Microsoft and Google.
How Amazon ended up outpacing Oracle and other traditional corporate IT vendors, including IBM and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, is a remarkable story.
Known mainly for selling everything from books to toiletries, the online shopping site realized in the early 2000s that it could make some extra money by giving businesses access to its massive, but under-utilized, computing infrastructure, hosted from its data centers.
Amazon found itself leading and eventually dominating the cloud, the trend that lets businesses set up networks on web-based platforms, making it possible to scale down or even abandon private, on-premise data centers.
Kelman played a critical role in telling Amazon’s amazing cloud story, which he says was essentially a story of tech disruption that has happened repeatedly in the enterprise IT market.
History of disruption in enterprise IT
“Whenever there’s disruptive new technologies and companies, enterprises go through the same cycle of dismissing it, being skeptical, looking at it for experimental things, deploying in production for things that you can’t get fired for, and then it becomes a standard,” he said.
He cited other key trends like Microsoft’s .NET platform and VMware’s pioneering virtualization technology were met with skepticism before taking off as important trends in enterprise tech.
“And you look back and you say, ‘I can’t even believe I questioned it.’ This pattern happens over and over again.”
And it’s about to happen again, this time with Oracle, Kelman maintained.
Many large companies, including the likes of Walmart and Netflix, have moved to the cloud, while more cutting-edge companies including Zoom and Slack never operated any other way to begin with.
But Kelman says that most businesses have yet to embrace the cloud, and Oracle is betting that it can still win many of them over, based on what the company argues is superior and more secure technology based on its track record as an enterprise tech powerhouse.
The company has mounted an aggressive bid to expand its data center footprint, expanding from four cloud regions in 2018 to 24 this year. Oracle said it aims to have 36 regions by next year.
Oracle has also hired experienced cloud executives, including two Amazon veterans: Don Johnson, who heads Oracle’s cloud infrastructure business, and Clay Magouyrk, who’s in charge of its cloud infrastructure engineering.
But Oracle has been wrestling with the perception it has simply fallen behind in the cloud.
“Oracle is late to the game,” Christian Primeau, global CEO of Syntax, a cloud management services company that works with Oracle, Amazon and Microsoft, said in an interview late last year during Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco. “They’re playing catch-up and it’s really, really hard to play catch-up.”
Hiring Kelman, a veteran product marketer of the cloud era who served as a top Salesforce exec in the early 2000s, is a coup of sorts for Oracle given one of its challenges: changing the narrative around its cloud strategy.
Kelman said the idea of joining Oracle came up last year when a friend who said Oracle was looking for a new marketing chief set up a meeting with Larry Ellison.
Working with Larry Ellison
When they met, Kelman said he asked the Oracle founder “to walk me through kind of the current state of the products, what he was excited about.”
Kelman was easily convinced to make the move. It was partly because he realized that some of the cloud technology Oracle had built over the past two years, “was really ahead of what was available in the market, and not enough people knew about it.”
Kelman also said he had “a great time” at Amazon, but “after eight and a half years, you start to get an itch to try to do something different.”
Oracle, he said, offered a “unique opportunity to build out a marketing department and be part of an ongoing cloud transformation project at one of the most important technology companies in the past 30 years.”
While Oracle still had ground to cover in the cloud wars, “we’re really still in the second, or maybe even third inning of enterprise adoption of cloud.”
“There’s more than enough time for us to build a meaningful share in the market,” he said.
Kelman reports to Catz, but his new role means he gets to work closely with Ellison, who is a legendary Silicon Valley figure who has been criticized for appearing to downplay cloud computing in its early years.
“People ask if Larry is on board with all this cloud stuff,” he said. “Not only is he on board. He is the driving force, the most aggressive force behind really all the technology and the business model transformation that’s been going on.”
Working closely with the Oracle founder has been “one of the most appealing parts of the job,” he said.
“I mean, I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay area for 25 years and Oracle is just part of the culture here,” he said. “I’d never really met I’d never met Larry before. Just to see his level of energy and passion for both the technologies that we’re building but also for reinventing the company that he founded. It’s just…it was very appealing to me.”
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