Cloud // Platform as a Service
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10/3/2012
00:25 AM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Oracle Touts Cloud Flourishes, Trashes Salesforce.com

At Oracle Open World, CEO Ellison lays on the rhetoric that Oracle's approach is safer than Salesforce.com's. Oracle customers will find his new cloud vision has a familiar bundle of enterprise software at its core.

Oracle vs. Salesforce: Social Acquisition Face-off
Oracle vs. Salesforce: Social Acquisition Face-off
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Oracle has entered the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) field, but like everything Oracle does in the cloud, no one else does it quite the same way Oracle does. For Oracle, the heart of the IaaS cloud is the database; the arteries are Oracle Fusion middleware and the useful working parts are Oracle applications.

If you can accept that, then you'll find you have options under Oracle's approach to cloud infrastructure. You can run the bundle of Oracle products in an Oracle data center--either on its hardware or your own, Oracle-managed, dedicated hardware. Or you can run it on premises under either Linux x86 or Solaris Sparc. "We believe in giving the customer choice," said CEO Larry Ellison in a Tuesday afternoon keynote address at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco. So did Henry Ford.

What's new to the Oracle approach is the expansion of Oracle Enterprise Manager 12c, announced at the previous Oracle OpenWorld, and the more recently announced Enterprise Manager Ops Center 12c, for provisioning, tracking, and managing virtualized environments. The Oracle software bundle is more cloud-like this time, because it can allow for end-user self-provisioning in the Oracle data center. Under Ops Center 12c, the workload owner can migrate virtual machines, load-balance servers in the cluster, and consolidate virtual machines on underutilized servers to save electricity, if that meets the goals of its spelled-out policies.

At Rackspace, Amazon, or SoftLayer, IaaS is a blank slate. You bring the application, middleware, and perhaps even your chosen database system as a multi-server workload. At Oracle, no need for such complex decision making. It will simplify the process around all Oracle products, then give you a single management console for compute, storage, and networking. "Simplify IT" is the tagline Oracle gives its cloud products, and it accomplishes that.

[ Want to learn more about how Salesforce.com's growth steps on Oracle's toes? See What Salesforce.com Results Say About Oracle Battle. ]

From Oracle's point of view, is that your cloud management will be even simpler if you buy Oracle Exadata and Exalogic hardware. Ops Center management capabilities are tightly integrated with the Oracle engineered appliances, said Steve Wilson, VP of systems management, and Philip Bullinger, senior VP of storage, at a Tuesday session titled Breakthrough Efficiency in Private Cloud Infrastructure. The Oracle management software allows IT managers to "to give Amazon EC2-like services to your customers," said Wilson.

The user self-provisioning portal and cloud-management features are available at no additional cost, provided you are already a licensee of Solaris, Oracle VM, and Fusion middleware. Licensees with a premium support level can go to the Oracle Technology Network and download what they need to get started on the private cloud. Wilson said. When it comes to user self-provisioning, users will be restricted to templates of servers as defined by IT.

Whether Ellison was describing Oracle IaaS in the cloud, or Wilson and Bullinger on-premises, it might be more aptly termed platform-as-a-service in either place. There is no plain vanilla IaaS from Oracle. It's going to be an integrated stack with all the advantages and charges that accompany such stack. Customers may subscribe by the month from an Oracle data center or buy hardware from Oracle and establish a similar private cloud on premises. Another option is to build the private cloud on premises and let Oracle operators run it remotely.

This type of engineered and integrated cloud infrastructure comes at a price premium over the plain vanilla type. As newcomers first approach the complexities of cloud computing, it has an inherent appeal, despite the price tag. A rough analogy is the integrated servers, virtualization, and networking packages produced by VCE, the VMware-Cisco-EMC consortium. Columbia Sportswear's experience with VCE might be instructive to Oracle customers.

Mike Leeper, senior manager of IT engineering, said VCE's vBlocks were highly integrated and well supported racks of infrastructure for the Columbia private cloud. Given the value of high availability, "I didn't believe the price was unjustified," he said in a recent interview.

At the same time, Columbia runs its test and dev and its non-mission critical applications on its own VMware-virtualized part of the data center, and it's learning from the example of the vBlocks integration how to do that. Over time, Leeper expects to expand the part of the data center that his own staff has built and shrink the presence of vBlocks.

Oracle cloud customers may find themselves deeply embedded in the Oracle product line and never make such a move themselves. Then again, they've frequently picked and chosen from among the copious Oracle product line in the past. The efficiencies of bundled and highly automated systems may offset the price differential deep into the future. Then again, for true EC2-like services, some of them may decide upon the alternative, Amazon Web Services, that escaped mention by Oracle execs at Open World.

The main alternative that drew the attention of Oracle speakers was Salesforce.com. Salesforce is a company whose application revenues are growing faster than Oracle's, and whose revenue total may hit the $3 billion mark this fiscal year. At its Dreamforce show the preceding week, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff kept a relentless upbeat commentary on the value of managing the customer experience through the enterprise social network.

Ellison emphasized Oracle's own social networking capabilities by saying they will be available as a service for any Oracle cloud users. "We didn't implement social networking at the application level. We implement it at the platform level," said Ellison, taking pains to make a distinction between Oracle and its growing competitor.

He went on to critique Salesforce CRM applications as multi-tenant systems, running multiple customers' data through the memory of a single host at the same time, a practice he maintains isn't safe. Oracle uses the database as a multi-tenant data repository, but isolates it when it's brought out by running the application in a virtual machine. "We think you should not co-mingle multiple customers' data in one application," he said.

This is an old, and in some ways, tired debate. If Oracle were winning it, Salesforce.com wouldn't be growing so fast. In fact, it's harder to design and build one application that can serve thousands of users at a time, as Salesforce has done, than it is to isolate an application in a virtual machine, as Oracle says it does. Salesforce.com's executive VP for technology Parker Harris has made believers out of thousands of users, and Ellison is not expecting to lure them back. He's trying to plant a fear in his own customer base, before he loses any more candidates for Oracle's approach to cloud.

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