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7/25/2012
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Oracle Exalogic 2.0 Focuses On Elastic Cloud, Automation

Oracle's 'cloud in a box' gains virtualization and automation software required for truly elastic private-cloud enterprise application deployments.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has described the company's Exalogic Elastic Cloud appliance as "one great big honkin' cloud," but until now it has lacked crucial virtualization capabilities to split out the platform's storage and compute capacity in an elastic and automated way. On Wednesday, Oracle announced a second generation of Exalogic software that truly merits the "Elastic Cloud" moniker.

Exalogic is one of Oracle's so-called engineered systems combining hardware and software "engineered to work better together," but until now it has been more of an infrastructure appliance combining compute, storage, operating system, infiniband networking, and system management software. The benefit was being able to plug it in and quickly get to deploying applications on a high-performance, fault-tolerant platform.

Exalogic previously included a degree of virtualization capabilities, but with Exalogic Elastic Cloud Software 2.0, Oracle has added server-level virtualization capabilities that will make it much easier to spin up and spin down capacity at will.

"We now have virtual network-, storage-, and server-level capabilities through which we can create enterprise application environments in an automated way," Mike Palmeter, senior director of product management for Oracle Exalogic, told InformationWeek.

[ How does Exalogic work with Oracle Cloud? Read How Oracle's Public Cloud Is Different. ]

More to the point for Oracle customers, the Exalogic upgrade is built specifically to run optimized deployments of Oracle business applications, such as ERP and CRM systems and supply-chain management and other Oracle vertical industry applications.

With the new level of virtualization, Exalogic's infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) layer can be used to spin up virtual capacity without having to know anything about the physical server, storage, or network capacity inside Exalogic. The IaaS layer also lets administrators automate detailed software, network, and storage configuration steps involved in deploying applications. Thus, you can take the entire software stack that used to be installed on physical servers and quickly spin up (or down) instances on Exalogic virtual servers.

The final upgrade with Exalogic 2.0 is a new level of systems orchestration provided through the Exalogic Control administrative software. Automating the last mile of complex application deployment, a new Virtual Assembly capability lets you package up and reuse the metadata describing all the details of Web server, database, business logic, file storage, network, and external connectivity requirements for consistent, repeatable deployments.

"Instead of giving customers a bunch of binary installers and a big book that tells them how to plan their deployments and go through the process of installing each component, they can simply upload the [Virtual Assembly] to Exalogic and push the big green 'deploy' button," said Palmeter.

Customers will be able to create assemblies by copying existing physical deployments or they can use pre-configured (and customizable) assemblies that will be provided by Oracle for its own business applications. Customers will also be able to develop assemblies from scratch, tuning to their specific applications and needs, using a new Virtual Assembly Builder tool included with Exalogic.

The idea behind virtual assemblies is not new. Amazon does it with its Cloud Formation capabilities, and other vendors support this level of orchestration. Exalogic 2.0 delivers virtualization and automation capabilities that Palmeter said the company has been working on for close to four years.

Some aspects of the new Exalogic software are innovative, such as the way Oracle virtualization bypasses the operating system, according to Ovum analyst Tony Baer. "That's something you can do when you control the whole stack and are not supporting a general-purpose virtualization engine," Baer told InformationWeek. Oracle says bypassing the OS helps Oracle VM deliver higher performance and resiliency than would be achievable with competing virtualization software.

Virtualization rivals like the Virtual Computing Environment Company (the Cisco/EMC/VMware alliance) can point to more advanced capabilities in areas such as storage, Baer said, but the point of Exalogic is not to deliver a virtualization appliance.

"It's really a purpose-built, optimized implementation of Oracle Fusion Middleware," said Baer, noting that that server virtualization is purely in support of the Fusion Middleware stack.

The point, said Palmeter, is to cater to customers who have made big investments in Oracle applications and middleware. "This is not a hardware adventure, it's not about virtualization, and it's not a horizontal cloud strategy," he said. "It's about helping Oracle software customers to meet the challenge of deploying large-scale enterprise applications."

The underlying Exalogic hardware package has not changed, and existing customers will get the software upgrade at no extra charge.

Expertise, automation, and silo busting are all required, say early adopters of private clouds. Also in the new, all-digital Private Clouds: Vision Vs. Reality issue of InformationWeek: How to choose between OpenStack and CloudStack for your private cloud. (Free with registration.)

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