Oracle seems to have placed a stake in the ground of the cloud computing market with the unveiling of its Exalogic Elastic Cloud line of machines. Available in quarter-, half- and full-rack flavors, Oracle Exalogic is a stack of application servers that offers incremental enhancements to the load balancing, performance and security of Java-based applications. But does it fit the generally accepted definition of cloud computing, and does that matter?
Vendor strategies for cloud computing have evolved over the past few years. Most notable has been Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud. EC2 has changed the economics of computing by allowing customers to pay only for the capacity that is used and by providing an ever-increasing variety of technology options.
More recently, the debate over what cloud computing is has heated up as industry titans Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff trade jabs. Specifically, Ellison has criticized the multitenant model of Salesforce.com as lacking an adequate security model. Benioff has responded that Exalogic is not provisional, efficient or democratic enough to be considered cloud computing. High-profile CEO spats aside, it's important to analyze each vendor's offerings as standalone products and services to understand how they may benefit your organization.
To that end, the full Exalogic machine is a 42U rack of servers, including 360 Intel cores, interconnected by InfiniBand, and preconfigured with WebLogic Suite and other trimmings. Oracle suggests that this much technology will enable enterprises to consolidate tens, hundreds, or even thousands of disparate mission-critical applications. Small to medium-sized business will likely find the quarter- and half-rack models more palatable, with 96 and 192 cores, respectively. Up to eight Exalogic machines can be connected to satisfy the largest computing appetites.
Back to the cloud debate, Exalogic offers elasticity in that application workloads can be balanced across shared resources factory-engineered to work together. IT organizations that are standardized on Oracle software may benefit from factory-based integration of complex technologies that previously required valuable staff time or expensive consulting to implement. Conversely, data centers using IBM PowerVM or VMware may wonder how Exalogic is any different or better.
What may ultimately jeopardize Exalogic's place in the cloud discussion, however, is that Oracle has not yet offered a licensing model that provides the flexibility to pay only for the level of resources in use. This contractual flexibility is a trademark of the traditional cloud computing model. It follows that from a total cost of ownership perspective, software licensing presents a sizable consideration, since Exalogic requires a WebLogic Suite Processor for every two Intel cores. At $45,000 per Processor, WebLogic Suite will spin the meter into millions of net license and support dollars. As with Oracle's Exadata database machines, software is sold separately and likely to garner the best discounting via an unlimited license agreement.
The value equation that Exalogic can bring to your organization's IT needs depends on many factors. Primarily, Exalogic may serve well as the future-state home for existing applications that currently reside on disparate, underutilized, end-of-life systems. Decades of application growth, integration and server sprawl have led to high operational costs that products such as Exalogic promise to optimize, with resulting cost savings.
Another major consideration with regards to Exalogic's value is Oracle's overall strategy, within which Exalogic is a key component. With its acquisition of Sun, Oracle has joined the ranks of vendors like IBM and Teradata by offering solutions that include preconfigured hardware, software, management tools and support. Standing up an Exadata database machine next to Exalogic takes this concept to another level by giving Oracle databases and application servers direct access to each other via ultra high-speed networking and specialized software features.
All of this begs the question of where the industry is headed, especially as vendors merge and behemoths such as Oracle, Hewlett Packard Co. and IBM are challenged by newly pioneered computing models from Amazon, Google and Salesforce.com. For the time being, Oracle appears to be focused on enabling its customers to build private clouds by offering "cloud in a box" solutions. Oracle's participation in public cloud computing is more likely to be demonstrated in its contractual relationships with Amazon, Salesforce.com and other providers that offer Oracle's Software as a Service. In which case, Oracle gets the best of both worlds by licensing its software and selling its hardware to nontraditional pay-as-you-go providers.
The good news for customers is that the options are only increasing and improving, and the definition of cloud matters less than the flexibility customers now have to shift applications workloads around based on security, performance, growth and comfort level.
About the author:
Eric Guyer consults with IT organizations to optimize Oracle environments from an architectural and financial perspective. He is the author of Oracle Optimization, a blog about integrating best practices across all Oracle-related disciplines. Eric is currently with Forsythe, a systems integrator that offers technology and business consulting services, technology leasing, and products from all leading IT infrastructure manufacturers.