Oracle Blockchain | Deep Analysis | Vendor Vignettes

Oracle Blockchain


Founded 1977 | HQ Redwood City, CA | 135,000 employees (approx.) | $39.07B revenue (2020)

Oracle is the enterprise blockchain dark horse. With the company’s deep roots in supply chain, financial services, healthcare, and government, it always made more sense for Oracle to embrace blockchain than it did for some of its competitors, and unsurprisingly it is gaining traction in these very sectors.


The Company

Oracle is one of the world’s largest and most successful IT vendors, founded in 1977, with revenues of $39.07 billion in 2020 and around 135,000 employees worldwide. Though initially best known for its database business, Oracle has grown over the years, both organically and by acquisition, to embrace full stack offerings from core hardware to business applications. Oracle’s customer base is global and typically (though not exclusively) large organizations in both the public and private sectors. Oracle first announced its blockchain ambitions in late 2017 and launched its eponymous Oracle Blockchain Platform (OBP) in mid-2018. To date, there remains surprisingly limited industry discussion or, for that matter, visibility of Oracle’s work in the enterprise blockchain space.

However, blockchain is a logical extension of Oracle’s SaaS applications and broader infrastructure products, and in 2019 the firm announced its first blockchain-enabled SaaS application, Track and Trace. Indeed, Oracle’s enterprise blockchain work has been quite extensive over only a short period. Its use of blockchain is now a critical factor in the company’s future growth strategy, both as part of its infrastructure and in business application plays.

The Technology

There are four piece-parts to Oracle’s enterprise blockchain strategy:

  • Blockchain Platform Cloud PaaS
  • Blockchain Platform Enterprise Edition (on-premises version)
  • Intelligent Track and Trace SaaS application
  • Database Blockchain Tables

The Oracle Blockchain Platform is the core blockchain platform infrastructure stack; one runs as a cloud service, and the other (Enterprise Edition) is for on-premises or hybrid situations. Based on Hyperledger Fabric 1.4 (Oracle joined this open-source initiative in 2017), the platform differentiates itself in providing one of the first fully managed, enterprise-grade, secure and permissioned blockchain platforms. It also offers a range of plug-and-play components, an API gateway, a low-code developer framework, and a low-code smart contract developer framework.

Beyond the many standard components Oracle has built, there is also a dedicated on-premises enterprise blockchain option for customers whose data sovereignty or residency needs require an on-premises or third-party cloud deployment. Customers planning hybrid or multi-cloud networks will also be interested. The Enterprise Edition is installed and runs on your choice of virtualization architecture (VMware or Oracle VirtualBox) and can tap into existing LDAP/AD systems for role-based access. Most important to note, though, is the functional parity between the cloud and on-premises options and that they run the same management interface.

A second element that has caught our attention is Oracle’s focus on analytics, as this is often a weak spot in blockchain deployments. Also interesting was not just that OBP has a built-in connection to Oracle Analytics Cloud via DBaaS or ADW, but that the entire transaction history can be mirrored, and it provides fast and accurate analysis using custom visualizations, dashboards, and reports. That may seem an obvious thing to need to do, but as of today, Oracle is one of the few vendors (and the only significant one) to provide this as standard. Without this built-in functionality, a customer would likely have to use a third-party system such as Splunk’s newly announced blockchain monitoring system.

The Intelligent Track and Trace offering is also of particular interest as it is a fully developed, pre-built supply chain business application, providing functionality to track transactions, assets, and documents (see Figure 1). Though most early customers of Track and Trace are leveraging data from their existing Oracle applications, it was designed to integrate with third-party and on-premises applications. Though Track and Trace is Oracle’s only SaaS offering to date, it should be noted that there are dozens of other solutions available built by partners on the Oracle Blockchain Platform.

The newest element in the Oracle blockchain story is Blockchain Tables in Oracle Database, which brings blockchain’s cryptographic hashing mechanisms and data signing to provide verifiable immutability to databases. In short, you can add a table or transaction to an Oracle database, but you cannot go back and change it. In our eyes, Blockchain Tables is a modern evolution of WORM (write once read many) devices. One can immediately see the applicability of such functionality in thwarting insider changes to credentials or trades; for example, even system administrators cannot change data that has been recorded on the Blockchain Table. And of course, it can detect and alert you if anyone tries to do that.

We noted that as Blockchain Tables do not require a consensus mechanism (the blockchain is focused on a specific database), the use of Blockchain Tables should not slow transaction rates. This is a relatively new addition to Oracle’s blockchain technology portfolio. Still, as it is now provided as standard functionality in Oracle’s database offerings, we will watch closely as this rolls out more broadly into the market over the coming year, particularly in legal and financial settings.

The bottom line here is that Oracle is flipping the switch from heavy consulting-led enterprise blockchain to pre-assembled, plug-and-play enterprise blockchain that can deploy quickly across organizations, including easy integration with existing systems of record. To date, too many blockchain projects have been consulting-led, lengthy, and costly. Oracle sees blockchain as an infrastructure platform component that should be easy to access and utilize. This approach enables developers to quickly build and invoke everything from complex Solidity-based smart contracts to essential automated records management.

Figure 1
Oracle Intelligent Track and Trace

Our Opinion

Oracle is the enterprise blockchain dark horse. It’s a stealthy but deeply funded and well-sourced entry into the market that follows a well-established pattern by Oracle. The firm has a history of first dismissing new technologies, only to work quietly and then launch into the new market with full force. With the company’s deep roots in supply chain, financial services, healthcare, and government, it always made more sense for Oracle to embrace blockchain than it did for some of its competitors, and unsurprisingly it is gaining traction in these very sectors. The full-stack nature of Oracle’s range of infrastructure and business applications offerings makes them ideal candidates to bundle blockchain functionality.

In other words, though there will always be disruption when leveraging blockchain, Oracle’s approach makes it one of the simplest and least disruptive paths to adoption. Arguably, that easy integration means that truly disruptive and reimagined use cases won’t get stymied by the burden of handling the typical levels of enterprise-grade integration and heavy lifting blockchain often involves. The other side of this coin is that such an easy integration could mean that the truly disruptive and transformative nature of blockchain may be limited. Either way, Oracle’s significant progress here is impressive and may well set a new benchmark for its competitors. It will almost certainly gain considerable traction across the Oracle customer base.

Advice to Buyers

It stands to reason that if you are an existing Oracle SaaS customer, you should first consider OBP’s options as they are, or will be, pre-integrated capabilities. If you are not an Oracle SaaS customer, then Oracle should be on your shortlist for consideration, if solely for the work it has undertaken to build and to pre-package many elements of blockchain. Similarly, if you are considering a digital transformation exercise that will involve replacing existing business applications, you may want to look at what Oracle has to offer.
Finally, it is worth noting that Oracle to date has focused much of its blockchain efforts on consortiums, though realistically many such projects begin with just a few partners or divisions. For example, it leads the Retail Blockchain Consortium (RBC) and is also heavily involved in supporting the Global Shipping Business Network (GSBN). Oracle has a specifically designed blockchain option for existing or new consortiums that want to work collectively.

Oracle may not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking about enterprise blockchain, but it is a dark horse that has come a long way in a short time and should be taken very seriously.


SOAR Analysis

Strengths

  • Existing global customer base looking for blockchain options
  • Pre-built blockchain functionality for plug and play integration
  • On-premises, cloud, and hybrid options available for private and consortium uses

Aspirations

  • Replace IBM as the de facto choice for consortiums
  • Open up a clear lead on SAP
  • Embed and bundle blockchain as core functionality

Opportunities

  • Quickly lock out competitors
  • Extend blockchain across its entire SaaS/PaaS portfolio
  • Expand and create blockchain analytic services

Results

  • 150 active blockchain customers
  • Approximately 500 firms running active trials
  • Significant DB/Analytics capabilities compared with the competition