Cloud // Software as a Service
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10/7/2010
03:19 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Ellison Threatens Cloud More As Friend Than Foe

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, long a vocal critic, now supports cloud computing, sort of, unless what you're doing falls outside his "definition."

At Oracle OpenWorld this year, CEO Larry Ellison made the switch from cloud critic to cloud advocate. At best, it was a shaky transition.

I don't know about the 41,000 attendees, but upon review, I found his presentation somewhat uncertain and halting. It's all there in the YouTube video. When the subject of the cloud comes up, he knows how he wants to position Oracle to buyers but he's not sure what words to use about the cloud. He starts to say one thing about, then pauses and says another. He usually excels at making a crisp presentation. Compared to previous performances -- say, the time he compared Sybase to a one-cylinder Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engine -- this presentation was hesitant and unconvincing.

That's a curious outcome, given Ellison's history as a leading cloud critic. He knew he had to execute an about face at this event and, unlike more conscience-stricken executives, had the skills to do so. It's inconceivable that he wasn't rehearsed. So let's take a look at the heart of what he said and see if we can spot what went wrong.

There are two frequently recognized forms of cloud computing, said Ellison in his welcome keynote in San Francisco's Moscone Center last month. "One is Salesforce.com, which has been around a very long time, a very successful application on the Internet and a lot of people call that cloud computing. It's an application on the Internet. You don't run it on your computer; rather you access the application on the web. Is that cloud computing?"

Ending that statement with a question is odd, since in this segment of the talk he began with the assertion: "Maybe the two most well known examples of cloud computing represent the opposite spectrums of what's meant by cloud computing. One is Salesforce.com…" Ellison recognizes in his opening statement that many people already think of Salesforce.com as part of what cloud computing is about. It becomes, then, his purpose to dissuade them.

"Or... is it Amazon EC2? The term cloud computing was popularized, came into popular existence with the invention and release of Amazon EC2. And... again, it stands in stark contrast to Salesforce.com. It's not an application at all. It's a platform upon which you build applications. And it's relatively new. Very different from Salesforce.com. Needless to say, Oracle agrees with Amazon.com. Our definition is identical to theirs."

If Oracle's definition is identical to Amazon's, then what Oracle refers to when it talks about cloud computing is infrastructure as a service -- plain vanilla hardware and storage that's accessed over the Internet. It's a relief to know Ellison now approves of some form of cloud computing, after all those terrible things he's said about "nitwits" and fools of computing-fashion. But a problem remains. Amazon's EC2 only faintly resembles Oracle's Exadata or Exalogic hardware appliances. They're not plain vanilla hardware devices with minimal governing software. They're loaded to the gills with Oracle applications, middleware and database systems. The problem with Ellison's definition is that it confuses as much as it clarifies.

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