Oracle puts app server on the grid

Oracle is adding grid computing capabilities to the latest version of its application server software, part of a broader effort...

Oracle is adding grid computing capabilities to the latest version of its application server software, part of a broader effort to revamp its entire product line around the "utility" computing model.

So far Oracle has not given a shipping date for Application Server 10g.

"We're at a crossroads for a major generational shift for Oracle's infrastructure software," said John Magee, Oracle's vice president for application server marketing. "What we're really looking to do now is commercialise grid technology for our customers."

The company will provide details about its 10g products at its OracleWorld conference in San Francisco next month. It will also discuss grid-related updates to its development tools and to its database management product, Oracle Enterprise Manager, which appears set to play a key role in the effort.

Grid computing promises to let businesses treat groups of servers and storage equipment as if they were a single large machine, and to assign computing resources to applications on an as-needed basis. Proponents say it will help businesses save money by allowing them to use computing resources more efficiently. Instead of having to predict how much capacity they will need to run their applications - and, perhaps, buying too much - an IT department should be able to reassign resources from elsewhere in a network when they are required.

The technology also promises improved reliability. Like clustering, grid computing allows an application to switch over to different hardware if the servers it is running on go down. But unlike clustering, in which applications fail over to a fixed, predetermined group of servers, grid computing can assign resources from anywhere in a network on an ad hoc basis.

But if clusters are hard to set up and manage, grid computing can be even more complex, and it's unclear how quickly customers will take to the new model.

"I think the caveat of any clustered or grid configuration is the complexity. Oracle has to make that complexity invisible to the end user, and if they don't do that effectively, then organisations aren't going to move towards this, even if they get more hardware utilisation," said Mark Shainman, a senior analyst at Meta Group.

Forrester Research fellow Mike Gilpin noted that standards for grid computing, which help ensure that products from different suppliers interoperate, are still in their infancy, which could further hamper adoption.

"The goal of increasing the reliability of applications by grid-enabling them is a worthy one. However, I think the amount of demand from customers for anything grid-related is quite limited right now," Gilpin said.

Management and monitoring also need to be enhanced to help businesses get predictable levels of service from their grids, and security functions for grid environments must also be added, Oracle's Magee said.

Oracle said it would address these concerns by delivering products that are "grid-ready", reducing the work required to get a grid running. The 10g application server will have new provisioning features, for example, making it easier to shift software configurations from one group of servers to another, Magee said.

It will also allow businesses to monitor the performance of applications and services from the end user, through the firewall and routers and back to the database, he said. Much of that capability will be provided in conjunction with new features in Enterprise Manager that will be described at OracleWorld next month, he said.

While Oracle isn't discussing a timeframe or pricing for its 10g products, the database is likely to ship towards the end of the first half of next year, Shainman said. "Most customers don't migrate to a new version until about a year after it's released," he noted.

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