As Oracle rounds out its cloud strategy, Amazon Web Services looms

Oracle added an IaaS layer to its cloud, but analysts question if that will attract new customers

Reversing years of cloud-bashing, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison added an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) component to the company's cloud portfolio this week at Oracle OpenWorld, rounding it out the company's strategy to include the three major cloud platforms, including SaaS and PaaS. But will anyone outside of existing Oracle customers use it?

Various analysts attending the show in San Francisco this week question if the offering has much appeal outside of existing Oracle customers. Mark Bowker, an analyst that Enterprise Strategy Group, says that's OK though: "Oracle's a pretty big company," as evidence by the estimated 50,000 attendees at this year's OpenWorld show, and the company's consistent multibillion-dollar quarterly revenue figures.

As Oracle rounds out its cloud strategy though, what many consider the market leader in this space, Amazon Web Services, came out with its own news this week too, giving customers a free tier to use Oracle databases in its cloud.

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Details are still scant about the IaaS offering from Oracle, as Ellison in his keynote address on Sunday failed to disclose pricing or timing of when the IaaS layer would be released. But he did outline the broad strategy the company is pursuing: Give customers access to utility computing models to help them drive efficiencies. Oracle's public IaaS cloud will be based on the company's Exalogic hardware, while a similar private cloud offering will be available for customers, with an extra wrinkle. Keeping with this theme of a utility computing model on the private cloud side, Oracle proposes to install Oracle-owned and operated equipment on customer data center sites, and only charge customers based on their usage.

Forrester cloud analyst James Staten says the private cloud strategy is not an original concept: CSC, HP and Dell each have similar offerings. And that's a problem for Oracle, he says. At this point, there are no "wow" features that differentiate Oracle's cloud from any other clouds already on the market, other than the fact that it's all Oracle hardware and software, Staten believes. Without further differentiation, he expects the market impact of Oracle jumping into the cloud game to be minimal. "As with everything from Oracle their cloud services are optimized around Oracle products and technologies, so if you are an Oracle strategy partner and want to use more and more Oracle in your business, then that's where the appeal would lie," he says. "But we have far more customers trying to minimize their dependence on Oracle than wanting to rush into their arms."

And Oracle competitors are making it easier to jump ship from the database management giant. The day after Ellison gave his more than hour-long keynote officially announcing the IaaS play, as well as giving a broad technology overview of the theories behind cloud computing, Amazon Web Services fairly quietly made its own announcement Monday morning. AWS -- what many consider the market leading IaaS provider -- rolled out a free usage tier of its Relational Database Service (RDS), which gives customers up to 750 hours per month of a 20GB Oracle database for free in the AWS cloud. That's on top of free usage tiers AWS already offers for its compute (EC2), storage (S3), block storage (EBS), load balancers (ELB) and data transfers.

Bowker, the ESG analyst, says he sees the AWS and Oracle offerings being able to coexist. For some applications, running them in the AWS cloud will make sense. Especially test and development models or apps that are not intended to live in the cloud forever could be optimized for AWS. For longer-term deployments that will be on Oracle hardware for their lifetime, perhaps there could be some benefit to using a utility, rental model from Oracle, which frees the customer from investments, upgrades and maintenance compared to managing the infrastructure themselves. "It's another option for Oracle developers, app teams to consider," he says.

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Others are not as convinced. For one, Staten says Oracle, and specifically Ellison, are treading a fine line. "It's a classic Innovator's Dilemma move," Staten says. "They want to position pure disruptive clouds like AWS, Google and Microsoft Azure as 'not ready for the enterprise' while they make 'me too' moves that protect their ASP, managed services and traditional businesses. The strategy is 'just enough cloud' rather than true cloud."

Carl Brooks, an analyst at the 451 Research Group, agrees and takes it one step further, saying that Oracle is cloud-washing, or calling its products cloud to play into the market hype around the term. Oracle embracing cloud terminology is in stark contrast to views Ellison has expressed about the topic in recent years. The company is rolling out everything in cloud now -- according to Brooks, Ellison even said the "c" in the Oracle 12c database stands for "cloud" -- because that's the buzzword du jour, Brooks says. "Oracle has been plodding along with the trends and technology just like all the other dinosaurs," he says. "Oracle has no chance to take business away from real cloud providers and very little from hardware/infrastructure vendors. Some of these services certainly qualify for the definitions of IaaS, SaaS, PaaS, and I think that's the great joke: Oracle is rehashing service delivery concepts that it (and Sun) were doing almost 10 years ago and covering it with a thick blanket of marketing to make it au courant."

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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