Oracle Finally Gets Serious About Cloud, But It's IaaS, Not PaaS

 

After three days of cloudwashing, cloud-in-a-box and erector set private cloud musings at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco this week, CEO Larry Ellison chose day four to take the wraps off a legitimate move into cloud computing. 

Oracle Public Cloud is the unification of the company's long-struggling software-as-a-service (SaaS) portfolio with its Fusion applications transformation, all atop Oracle VM and Sun hardware. While Ellison spent much of his keynote taking pot shots at his former sales executive and now SaaS nemesis, Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff, the actual solution being delivered is more of a direct competitor to Amazon Web Services than Force.com. The strongest evidence is in Oracle's stance on multitenancy. Ellison adamantly shunned a tenancy model built on shared data stores and application models, which are key to the profitability of Salesforce.com (and most true SaaS and PaaS solutions), stating that security comes only through application and database isolation and tenancy through the hypervisor. Oracle will no doubt use its own Xen-based hypervisor, OracleVM rather than the enterprise standard VMware vSphere, but converting images between these platforms is quickly proving trivial.

While many enterprise infrastructure & operational professionals will applaud this approach, this IaaS-centric architecture is far more resource intensive for supporting multiple customers than the Benioff model. Microsoft seems to agree with Benioff, as its Windows Azure model applies tenancy at the application level as well. As does, frankly, Oracle’s own SaaS customer relationship management (CRM) solution, now known as Fusion CRM. Ellison’s investment portfolio, which includes other SaaS solutions such as NetSuite, also favor this tenancy model.

A big selling point for Ellison was the fact that the same Fusion middleware software sold on-premises was available in his cloud and that the programming model for Oracle Public Cloud was the same open standards-based languages of Java, BPEL and web services. This is in clear contrast to the walled gardens of most other PaaS offerings. Microsoft comes closest to this value proposition, as most open languages and web services are supported but the middleware services of Azure are not one-for-one with their on-premises equivalents.

No doubt I&O pros will laud this architectural consistency, as it significantly eases the migration of Java apps between on-premises and cloud.

While Ellison announced a collection of cloud services – four SaaS applications and 4 PaaS services – a subset of these appear visible on the cloud.oracle.com site. Only the company’s database and Java services are shown as PaaS services with the already pre-existing CRM and human capital management (HCM) SaaS applications; talent management and Fusion Financials (Oracle eBusiness Suite) are expected to follow at the SaaS layer with a data service to supposedly rival Azure DataMarket filling out the PaaS layer. Ellison called out a discrete security service at the PaaS layer, but I presume this is a core function of the platform rather than a discrete service forthcoming.

Enterprise developers and I&O pros expecting a PaaS solution when looking at Oracle Public Cloud should note that while middleware and application services will be exposed – and supposedly you will not be able to provision a raw VM – this exposure does not a PaaS make. This is IaaS, which means that each image is a standalone entity rather than an autoscaling web service. While Oracle may provide tools to make scaling easier, customers should be prepared to apply IaaS best practices to this environment.

Lots of unknowns remain for this service, the biggest being pricing. While Ellison talked about an AWS-like pay-per-use model he also stated the requirement of a subscription. And since every instance will include at least either an Oracle database or a WebLogic app server, you can expect each instance to cost far more than Amazon’s $0.08 for a small VM.

For a different take on this announcement, see Forrester vendor strategist analyst Stefan Ried's blog entry