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Oracle Open World: Key Questions On Cloud Vision

As Oracle CEO Larry Ellison lays out plans for infrastructure-as-a-service, Oracle-run Private Cloud services, 12C database, and Exadata X3, the questions start with scale.

Doug Henschen

October 1, 2012

7 Min Read

You might associate Amazon with cloud infrastructure-as-a-service, Saleforce.com with multitenancy, SAP with in-memory databases, and EMC with high-performance disk arrays, but Oracle CEO Larry Ellison asserted on Sunday night, in his kickoff keynote at the company's annual Open World event in San Francisco, that Oracle has these and other competitors beat with four new cloud-computing-related offerings.

The four announcements were:

--Oracle Cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS).

--An Oracle Private Cloud service that runs in the customer's data center, yet is owned and managed by Oracle.

--Oracle Database 12c, a cloud-oriented upgrade of the company's flagship database.

--Oracle Exadata X3, an update of the Exadata Database Machine that will take advantage of 12c while also packing more DRAM and more advanced use of flash cache memory than available in the previous Exadata machines.

The irony of seeing Larry Ellison extol the virtues of cloud computing, in-memory computing, and multitenancy after so many memorable attacks on earlier versions of these technologies offered by rivals was indeed rich. But as InformationWeek predicted, Ellison's message was that Oracle alone is uniquely positioned and has designed innovative technology to deliver cloud computing (and in-memory database, fast storage, and various other technologies) in a superior way.

Oracle announced software-as-a-service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) plans at last year's Open World event. However, in working with Oracle customers on cloud delivery, Ellison said it became clear that they wanted and needed infrastructure-as-a-service.

[ Want more on what's coming from Oracle? Read Oracle Open World: Key Issues On Tap. ]

"Our customers have said they need to run certain custom applications and existing apps into the cloud as well SaaS applications," Ellison said. He noted that the infrastructure services--such as database, operating system, compute capacity, and storage services--will run on Oracle engineered systems including Exadata, Exalogic, and the Oracle Sparc SuperCluster server, which he dubbed "the fastest, most reliable, most secure machines in the world."

A first key question is whether Oracle can competitively deliver cloud infrastructure at the industrial scale that Amazon and fast-growing cloud-capacity rivals IBM (Smart Cloud) and Microsoft (Azure) operate at, using the same products (meaning Exadata, Exalogic, and Supercluster) developed and designed for corporate data centers. At the massive scale of Amazon's operation, the equivalent of an "appliance" is a container-sized data center module.

More details on Oracle's IaaS plans will emerge this week, but Ellison didn't get into basics such as availability dates, pricing, and service details during Sunday's keynote. Will Oracle deliver equivalents to the many individual infrastructure services, availability zones, and service-level-agreements (SLAs) served up by Amazon? And can it compete against Amazon's economy of scale?

The Oracle Private Cloud service that Ellison announced is aimed at companies that want the advantages of cloud computing but that are more comfortable housing compute capacity on premises, for security or compliance reasons. These customers will be able to get the flexibility of turn-it-off, turn-it-on elastic cloud-compute capacity and have hardware on premises, but with the new private cloud service, Oracle will own and manage the hardware and will keep it up to date, Ellison said.

The first question is just how elastic can the service be, given that a certain amount of hardware capacity will have to be installed on premises? And just how prepared is Oracle to manage hardware deployments at hundreds, and one would expect growing to thousands, of remote customer locations? Critically, what are the costs and the SLAs?

The "c" in Oracle Database 12c is for cloud, and Ellison declared it to be the first multitenant database before. In a long explanation of the benefits of multitenancy, Ellison said that Saleforce.com and other cloud competitors to Oracle were forced to implement multitenancy at the application level. But this approach, he said, is insecure and prevents the use of standard database tools for things like auditing, query, and reporting, forcing those vendors to use custom-built (and the suggestion was inferior) tools.

By offering multitenancy at the database level, Ellison said Oracle will be able to offer truly secure cloud computing, with each customer's data "safe in its own private database." Ellison described the 12c architecture as a container capable of plugging multiple databases into a single isolated container.

The architecture also improves performance and minimizes operational cost by reducing hardware requirements, Ellison said. "Pluggable databases are vastly more efficient; we can use one-sixth as much hardware [capacity] and run five times the number of databases," Ellison said. "With five times more scalability, that's important to conventional database users and SaaS companies."

12c will be generally available next year, Ellison said, but he didn't spell out the pricing or licensing terms. A key question is how will the 12c architecture change the Oracle database licensing scheme? How many private databases will a container hold? Will per-CPU charges go out the window in favor of fees based on the number of database containers and pluggable databases? Or both models apply, adding yet another layer of complexity to the database licensing scheme?

Exadata X3, Oracle's fourth major announcement, was touted by Ellison as the foundation of the Oracle cloud. "If you thought the old Exadatas were fast, you ain't seen nothing yet," he said.

A single X3 rack packs 4 terabytes (TB) of DRAM, 22 TB of flash cache, and, with 10X compression, can store a total of 220 TB of customer data. With all the DRAM and flash cache available, Ellison said it would be possible to keep all active data in memory so you "virtually never use disk drives."

Informing the audience that "disk drives are becoming passe," Ellison echoed SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann-Snabe, who made that observation at that vendor's SAPPHIRE event in May. But Ellison's only reference to SAP was an unfavorable comparison of SAP Hana, which Ellison said offered only half a Terabyte of memory, to Exadata X3, with 26 TB of memory. (It's an apples-to-pears comparison, however, as Hana runs entirely on blade server DRAM and is scalable far beyond 500 gigabytes.)

In an upgrade to Exadata's architecture, the appliance's flash cache can be used for database writes, not just reads as in early appliances. This will improve write performance by a factor of 10 to 20, according to Ellison, and this software-supported upgrade will also be available to owners of existing Sun-hardware-based Exadata appliances, he said.

Comparing Exadata X3 to an EMC VMax disk array, Ellison reported that Exadata had double the I/O capacity of the EMC hardware with a single rack, yet Oracle could keep increasing capacity by adding additional racks whereas the VMax was "maxed out."

Exadata X3 was also compared to an "equivalent" IBM Power server deployment, with the Exadata reportedly delivering higher performance even though the cost was $650,000 versus $5.6 million for the IBM configuration.

As we've seen in the past, and as it has been admonished for in its advertising, Oracle tends to twist the facts; the questions on the Exadata X3 are all in the details. Exadata X3 is said to be the same price as the X2 in terms of hardware. With the pricing questions surrounding the 12c database possibly adding to the complexity, it will be some time before the basics of Exadata X3 cost-for-performance specs are known, let alone comparatively understood.

Larry Ellison's keynote was prefaced with the following safe harbor announcement: "This presentation should not be relied upon in making purchasing decisions." Truer words were never spoken.

In-memory analytics offers sub-second response times and hundreds of thousands of transactions per second. Now falling costs put it in reach of more enterprises. Also in the Analytics Speed Demon special issue of InformationWeek: Louisiana State University hopes to align business and IT more closely through a master's program focused on analytics. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

Doug Henschen

Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of Transform Magazine, and Executive Editor at DM News. He has covered IT and data-driven marketing for more than 15 years.

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