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How Oracle's Public Cloud Is Different

By building its public cloud on Exadata and Exalogic appliances and implementing monthly subscription-based pricing, Oracle seeks to challenge Amazon, Rackspace.
Oracle has made a commitment to cloud computing and it sounds serious. Oracle is unlikely to back off its announced cloud services because, unlike other cloud services, they're being offered from Oracle Exadata and Oracle Exalogic appliances.

Oracle cloud services will run on the appliances in Oracle data centers. An Oracle partner, Japanese telecommunications supplier, SoftBank, is offering the same Oracle cloud software stack--on a similar hardware platform--assembled from Oracle's engineered appliances.

"The Oracle cloud is a little different," said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison in his announcement of the Oracle public cloud Wednesday during an afternoon address to the Oracle OpenWorld 2011 user conference in San Francisco. Built on appliances, Oracle's offering is different from Amazon Web Services, Terremark, and Rackspace. The latter build clusters of uniform, x86 commodity servers in racks as opposed to groupings of highly engineered appliances. But Ellison's primary point was that the Oracle cloud was "based on industry standards."

By that, he meant primarily Java, a language based on an international standard. Oracle's cloud runs any applications written in Java, whether those apps are custom enterprise versions or Oracle Fusion apps. Oracle's Siebel, JD Edwards, PeopleSoft, and E-Business Suite applications have been rewritten in Java to form the new Fusion line.

[Oracle is offering online CRM, Oracle applications as software as a service, and the ability to extend applications in the cloud. Is that making CEO Marc Benioff nervous? See Benioff, Denied OpenWorld Keynote, Mounts Podium Anyway.]

"Don't try to port Java Enterprise Edition to the Salesforce cloud. It won't run," he said. He also applied the standards-based dictum to SAP, whose applications are built in Advanced Business Application Programming (ABAP). (SAP's NetWeaver development platform supports use of both ABAP and Java.)

Oracle also uses Web service standards, such as SOAP, REST, and XML, to create its public interfaces to its cloud services. Virtual machines in the Oracle cloud will run under Oracle VM 3.0, which adheres to the open source codebase for Xen. With Oracle VM, Oracle cloud users "can manage thousands of virtual machines from one console," said Robert Shimp, group VP of product marketing, in a talk Thursday, the day after Ellison's announcement.

Oracle is different in another way. Unlike Amazon or Rackspace, which charge by the hour to run cloud workloads, Oracle will offer monthly subscriptions, which will come in different-sized packages. That difference may make it more difficult for customers to compare Oracle pricing to Amazon's.

Customers may include a database service, a Java application development service, a Java middleware service that includes the WebLogic application server, and various Fusion applications. Oracle also launched Oracle Social Network, which allows groups within the enterprise to set up impromptu teams, search and tag enterprise content, find prospective team members with needed expertise and co-edit documents. Social Network also forms a communications forum for working with consultants and partners outside the company.

Because Oracle is offering its applications as software available to run in its cloud, its approach can be described as software as a service. It will also work as a development environment, with Oracle offering NetBeans, JDeveloper, and Eclipse tools for developers to work with. When it comes to developing custom applications to run on the cloud, the Oracle cloud is functioning as a platform as a service.

Oracle's commitment to the cloud can be measured by the lead role that Shimp, one of Oracle's most experienced product marketing executives, took in explaining the cloud effort on last day of Oracle OpenWorld.

In his talk at the Yerba Buena Arts Center auditorium, Shimp cited the partnership with SoftBank and urged his listeners to watch for the additional partners in the third-party space, of the caliber of a Savvis or AT&T in their role as cloud providers, he said.

Oracle Fusion applications that will be available in the cloud include: FusionCRM, Fusion Human Capital Management (HCM) application, Fusion Talent Management, and Oracle Social Network. The latter can draw information out of CRM, HCM, and Talent in order to advise on the formation teams based on particular types of expertise. The Social Network application can also interface to mobile devices, including Apple's iPhone and iPad.

Both Ellison and Shimp played up the fact that Amazon's EC2 already offers a database service based on the Oracle engine, the same as the one Oracle is offering. Oracle databases and Oracle applications can run inside the enterprise, in the Oracle cloud, or in the Amazon cloud, Shimp pointed out.

The Oracle cloud provides load balancing, security measures, and elastic expansion and contraction to keep resources in line with demand, Shimp said.

While many customers will choose to run workloads on the Oracle appliances under Oracle Linux, Shimp pointed out they will also have the option of running them in the near future under Solaris. Solaris 11 on Sparc servers "will be available in a few weeks" as Solaris 11 becomes generally available.

Solaris offers containers, a different form of virtualization, compared to Oracle VM, Xen, or VMware on x86 servers. Under containers, a single Solaris host can quickly set up hundreds or thousands of virtual machines because each relies on the host's operating system kernel instead of establishing a separate operating system for its own use. As an intensely multithreaded system, Solaris 11 "will be able to instantly deploy thousands of virtual environments," Shimp said.