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Oracle to acquire RightNow for $1.5 billion

The database giant is jumping into the cloud customer service game via its acquisition of RightNow. The deal is aimed at the heart of

Oracle's rivalry with is about to get more interesting. Oracle said Monday that it will acquire RightNow, which is a customer service-as-a-service company, for $1.5 billion, or $43 a share.

RightNow focuses on customer service via call centers and self-service options via the Web and social networks. That customer service focus is aimed at the heart of

Thomas Kurian, executive vice president of Oracle Development, said in a statement that Oracle is "is moving aggressively to offer customers a full range of Cloud Solutions including sales force automation, human resources, talent management, social networking, databases and Java as part of the Oracle Public Cloud."

That quote is basically shorthand for "Oracle is going cloud shopping."

At Oracle OpenWorld, the company outlined plans to get into cloud computing, big data, and other efforts such as NoSQL databases. Oracle said its NoSQL database was generally available today.

Gartner analysts argued last week that Oracle will acquire and roll out more cloud capabilities in the next year or two. Judging by Kurian's quote, Oracle could be looking to acquire other players in various cloud niches.

In this acquisition, Oracle is looking to consolidate a leadership role in the call center. Here's Gartner's magic quadrant.

Gartner magic quadrant re customer service
Screenshot by Larry Dignan/ZDNet

Right time for RightNow?
RightNow's financial profile looks a lot like other SaaS companies. For 2011, RightNow is expected to deliver non-GAAP earnings of 58 cents a share on revenue of $226.7 million. That annual revenue is on par with other SaaS companies, with the exception of, which is on track for more than $2 billion in annual revenue.

Oracle's bet is that it can take RightNow and grow it faster via its army of enterprise sales people. Indeed, RightNow's ability to meet demand appears to have been stretched.

In a recent research note, Piper Jaffray analyst Mark Murphy said:

Our checks in the RightNow ecosystem indicate strong business momentum across multiple verticals. All of the industry contacts we interviewed reported ongoing positive trends. Contacts highlighted strong demand momentum driven by an aggressive sales organization as well as increasing interest from large resellers. Contacts alluded to a couple of large deals closed in the quarter and also referred to "impressive up sell" activity across the customer base. Contacts further highlighted that "Q4 is shaping up pretty good" and also mentioned that RightNow's professional services is "stretched and they have a huge backlog." Call Center/Contact Center replacement spending is strong, driving demand for Cloud-based multi-channel Service products.

Oracle: Playing offense or defense?
The RightNow deal coupled with the purchase of Endeca illustrates how Oracle at first pooh-poohs big trends--unstructured data, NoSQL, and cloud computing--but then hops on the bandwagon via acquisition.

In other words, Oracle will collect the maintenance, but isn't going to let rivals like Salesforce sneak up on it. When SaaS becomes too big a threat, Oracle buys a seat at the table to compete.

The big question is what cloud acquisitions are next on the radar. Here's a short list of possibilities based on Kurian's quote:

• SuccessFactors: A play on human resources that may be pricey for Oracle, but worth doing given SuccessFactor's large base of customers for talent management.

• Jive Software: Oracle has some social hooks into its products, but Jive would be an acquisition to step things up a bit. For Jive, Oracle may make a good partner given's effort to make Chatter a social enterprise standard. Yammer would be another option.

• NetSuite: Technically, NetSuite isn't dangerous enough to Oracle just yet, but Larry Ellison already owns about half of the company. As NetSuite grows it's increasingly likely that it will be brought into the Oracle fold.

Updated at 6:23 a.m. PT: Added more information about the acquisition and Oracle's strategy.

This story originally appeared at ZDNet's Between the Lines under the headline "Oracle acquires RightNow for $1.5 billion, aims turrets at"