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The Oracle weather report: Plenty of Sun and Cloud ahead

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25th Feb 2010
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Despite Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison’s continual derision of the term ‘cloud computing’, the vendor proved that it was not above jumping on the bandwagon this week as it attempted to reposition its existing offerings in a cloud-friendly light.

At a roadshow in London on Monday dubbed the ‘Oracle Cloud Computing Forum’, the supplier laid out where and how it intended to play in the Cloud world - and where its Sun Microsystems acquisition fitted into the mix.

Executive consultant John Abel claimed that the company provided "a complete set of building blocks for building and managing public and private Clouds from application to disk". Such building blocks would supply organisations with the technology to build internal ‘private’ Cloud data centres as well as technology that could be deployed in ‘public’ Clouds.

The vendor would also provide applications that could both be deployed in a private Cloud environment or accessed from its data centres via a software-as-a-service (SaaS) delivery model, Abel said.
But Oracle also heavily pushed the message that both private Cloud customers and public service providers using its technology should move to a single standardised software stack in order to make service delivery more seamless, reliable and easy to manage - while claiming, of course, that it had all of the necessary pieces in place. 
Abel said: "Standard builds are critical to make this happen. 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’s important for the whole area of Cloud."
Stacking up
At a simplistic level, the vendor now has Sun’s hardware, Solaris operating system and virtual machine for the ‘Infrastructure-as-a-Service’ (IaaS) element, all of which will be integrated with the Oracle database and Fusion middleware. 
The latter provides the ‘Platform-as-a-Service’ (PaaS) chunk, which can either be run on an internal cloud platform or accessed via Amazon Web Services’ Elastic Compute Cloud IaaS offering. Oracle will not be providing the IaaS chunk as a public cloud service itself, however, after canning Sun’s rival OpenCloud in January. 
But the above can also be used to run the supplier’s applications to enable private cloud facilities or third party providers to offer the ‘Software-as-a-Service’ (SaaS) element. The supplier also likewise plans to make all of its packages beyond CRM available via the SaaS delivery model – on top of its current on-premise format - over time.
The management piece, 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. 
Over time, Enterprise Manager will also be able to undertake capacity consolidation and planning in order to optimise resource utilisation. Workload and resource management will likewise be based on policies to automatically ensure that service level agreements are met.
A self-service application will also be provided to enable end-users rather than administrators to provision services on demand based on appropriate resources allocated automatically to service pools.
Andrew Sutherland, Oracle’s senior vice president for middleware in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), was careful to point out, however, that, while Cloud may be at the "peak of inflated expectations" on the Gartner hype cycle, it was in the main "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 new elements, he said, were "the push to on demand and self-service", but cloud constituted an "almost natural evolution of the data centre towards more data elasticity and self-service".
Private PaaS
 
But it is the PaaS element that Sutherland saw as being "perhaps the most interesting" because it is a "hybrid" of both IaaS and SaaS. "It’s a development and deployment environment and comprises reusable services to create business applications. So it’s not just infrastructure or a full business process that can be reused and deployed," he says.
Andrew Bond, the firm’s core technology director for EMEA, continued: "Private PaaS is the most natural evolution from where our customers are now as they’re already using many of our technologies such as WebLogic. So you can regard it as being on a journey from siloed infrastructure to grid to self-service and metering."
And Oracle has indeed been keen to push its Fusion middleware in particular for some time, understanding as it does the technology’s importance in gluing different applications and components together by providing the crucial underlying plumbing required for them to function effectively. 
New versions of the vendor’s own packages are based on the middleware so the idea is that as customers move to them, they will automatically adopt it whether they are aware of it or not. 
This means that such middleware will simply be there as a default framework that third party components and applications can plug into, effectively creating infrastructure lock-in, albeit one based on "open standards". The reason why such a concept is appealing to Oracle can be summed up by the old adage of ‘whoever controls the middleware controls the world’.
Because IBM, which has high levels of credibility in the middleware space, is attempting to do the same thing, however, Oracle has been pushing its Fusion middleware bundle heavily to developers to act as the foundation on which to build their enterprise applications in order to give it further leverage in enterprise accounts.
Interestingly, however, Oracle is also taking a leaf out of IBM’s marketing book from the 1990s despite its scant success at the time. As a result, it is currently failing to package its "application to disk" building blocks into coherent Oracle Cloud platform or ‘Cloud-ready’ bundle and/or appliance, preferring to take the stance of ‘well, we’ve got it all there anyway’. 
When asked if such a situation were likely to change in the near future, Andrew Bond, the firm’s core technology director for EMEA, said: "We’ve no plans to package things up differently that I can talk about", feeling himself unable "to pontificate on what we’re going to do in the future".
Maybe such a stance is best explained by Abel, however. "We’re starting to move quite aggressively in this space, but we’re on a journey. Our position is maturing and the market is maturing," he concluded.
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