Analysis: Oracle sets out cloud ambitions

Oracle is attempting to reposition its existing offerings in a cloud-friendly light, but is currently not repackaging them in a channel-friendly way to make them easier for partners to sell.

by Cath Everett

Oracle is attempting to reposition its existing offerings in a cloud-friendly light, but is currently not repackaging them in a channel-friendly way to make them easier for partners to sell.

At a roadshow in London entitled the Oracle Cloud Computing Forum, John Abel, an executive consultant at the company, claimed that since acquiring Sun Microsystems it is able to provide "a complete set of building blocksfor building and managing public and private clouds from application to disk".

These building blocks would enable customer organisations to build internal 'private' cloud datacentres, but could also be deployed by third-party service providers to run 'public' clouds. The vendor also provides applications that could likewise be deployed in a private cloud environment or accessed from Oracle's datacentres via a software-as-a-service delivery model, Abel said.

But the supplier has so far not taken the additional but obvious step of packaging its building blocks into a coherent Oracle cloud platform or bundling them into ERP or CRM appliances with a single part number.

When asked if the situation were likely to change in the near future, Andrew Bond, the firm's core technology director for EMEA, said he was unable to "pontificate" on Oracle's future plans.

Cloud services
At a simplistic level, however, Oracle now has Sun's hardware, Solaris operating system and virtual machine.

This furnishes the so-called infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) element for both public cloud providers and private cloud adopters, although the supplier will not be offering this element as a public cloud service itself, after axing Sun's OpenCloud in January.

This IaaS element will be integrated with the Oracle database and Fusion middleware to provide a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering. The database and middleware element can either be purchased separately or bundled together with Sun's offerings or accessed via Amazon Web Services' Elastic Compute Cloud IaaS platform.

But the IaaS and PaaS elements can also act as the basis for running both the company's own and third-party applications at both private and public cloud sites to provide customers with software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings. Oracle also plans to make all of its packages available via the SaaS delivery model over time.

The management element, meanwhile, will be undertaken by Oracle Enterprise Manager and integrated with Sun's more infrastructure-focused systems management offerings to enable end-to-end administration from a single interface.

But Oracle's move to reposition its offerings within the cloud marketing umbrella comes despite chief executive Larry Ellison's ongoing derision of the term, indicating perhaps that the firm now feels it is time to jump on the bandwagon or risk being left behind.

Cloud objections
Even as recently as September last year when speaking at an event run by the Churchill Club, a business and technology forum in San Francisco, Ellison reportedly said to an audience that included the BusinessCloud9 website: "My objection to cloud computing is the fact that cloud computing is not only the future of computing; it is the present and the entire past."

His stance was mirrored by Andrew Sutherland, Oracle's senior vice-president for middleware in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Sutherland said that although cloud may be at the peak of inflated expectations on the Gartner hype cycle, it was mainly based on old technology such as virtualisation and clustering that the IT industry had spent 20 to 30 years building and of which Oracle, of course, had much experience.

The only new elements of the cloud model, Sutherland added, were the push to on-demand and self-service. As a result, cloud constitutes an almost natural evolution of the datacentre towards more data elasticity and self-service, he said.

But Oracle also pushed the message that both private cloud customers and public cloud providers employing its technology would be well advised to migrate to a single standardised software stack to make service delivery more agile, seamless, reliable and easy to manage.

At the same time, of course, the vendor claimed that it had all of the necessary elements in place to make such a migration possible.

"Standard builds are critical to make this happen," Abel said. "Oracle owns the integration, which means that everyone experiences it so, if we fix one element, everything is enhanced. SaaS is innovative, but we give maturity and that is important for the whole area of cloud."

Hybrid approach
Sutherland views the PaaS element as being perhaps the most interesting because it is a hybrid of both IaaS and SaaS. "It is a development and deployment environment and comprises reusable services to create business applications, so it is not just infrastructure or a full business process that can be reused and deployed," he says.

Oracle has been keen to push its Fusion middleware for some time because of the technology's importance in providing the crucial underlying plumbing that glues different applications and components together.

New versions of the vendor's own packages are based on the middleware so the idea is that as customers adopt them, they will also automatically start using its middleware as a default framework that third-party components and applications can plug into, creating infrastructure lock-in, albeit one based on open standards.

World domination
Because IBM, which is widely seen as the leader in the enterprise middleware space, is attempting to do the same thing, however, Oracle has been pushing its Fusion middleware bundle heavily to developers. The aim is to ensure they build their enterprise applications on it to ensure an ever deeper and wider presence in enterprise accounts.

But at the Churchill event in San Francisco, Ellison took the concept of world domination a step further. "We want to be TJ Watson Junior's IBM," he said. "That was when IBM was the dominant software company, and it translated that position into being a great systems company. Back then, IBM was not just a company - it was the environment in which everything else operated."

Ellison continued that at the time Big Blue was the greatest company in US history because its combination of hardware and software was running most of the enterprises on the planet. "We think with the combination of Sun technology and Oracle technology, we can succeed and beat IBM. That is our goal."

"By combining its software with Sun's hardware, we can deliver systems that can be the backbone of most enterprises in America and around the world," he added.

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