Microsoft, Oracle differ on cloud visions

At the Cloud Computing Expo held this week in New York, executives from Microsoft and Oracle shared how they see cloud computing working its way into the enterprise.

The companies offered disparate visions, however, with Microsoft emphasizing its public cloud offerings and Oracle touting tools for building out internal clouds.

Both software giants agreed, however, that enterprise use of clouds is best done on an as-needed basis, in what their executives called “a hybrid model.”

“I’d argue that if you’d run today’s applications in the cloud with exactly the same utilization as you would in your own data center … [it] will probably cost you more,” said Hal Stern, Oracle president and former Sun Microsystems chief technology officer for services, during one talk.

The advantage of the cloud, Stern argued, is elasticity. It is those “impulse functions of demand, where you want to go to 100 CPUs to 1,000 CPUs, but give them back,” he said.

“If you look at every one of the cases that has been held up as a great case of public cloud, they ran for a period time and then put the resources back,” Stern said. “That’s what made them cost effective.”

Routine daily functions, such as payroll or supply chain, may not benefit as much in a cloud deployment (though consumed in a software-as-a-service model, they may reduce complexity).

So the challenge for organizations, Stern contended, is to prepare an enterprise infrastructure for a hybrid model, or a model in which some work is computed in house while other jobs are executed in the cloud. “If we really good at defining that packaging and release engineering, we can use a mix of public and private resources,” he said.

As it happens, Oracle chose this conference to announce a new set of products that speed the packaging and deployment of internal applications.

One offering, the Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder (OVAB) allows organizations to create virtual appliances from commonly used infrastructure programs, such as Web servers and databases, so they can be pulled off the shelf and quickly deployed.

“When building multitier applications, it is inevitable that you will have to piece together multiple components,” said Arvind Jain, Oracle product strategy director, in a presentation of the new technologies. “The ideal environment for the application developer teams would be an IT infrastructure that would be easily and readily provisioned, so the teams can focus on the application logic.”

The other offering, the Oracle WebLogic Suite Virtualization Option, is designed to speed run-times of virtualized Java applications by eliminating the guest operating system that would otherwise be needed to run the application in a virtual container.

This second package consists of a WebLogic application server integrated the Oracle JRockit Virtual Edition, a version of its Java runtime engine tweaked to run on the Oracle Virtual Machine virtualization platform.

“Taking out the guest OS might seem completely counter-intuitive. But JRockit Virtual Edition incorporates the pieces that you need for the VM to run,” said Erik Bergenholtz, Oracle director of product management, during the same presentation.

Bergenholtz noted taking out the guest OS in each virtual machine means more virtual machines can be packed on a server, and they could run faster as well.

In internal tests, Oracle has found that this approach can speed run-times by 33 percent: While a reference application running on standard WebLogic server executed 225 operations per second, the WebServer/JRocket combo executed 348 operations per second.


While Oracle emphasized the tools needed to quick cloud and virtual deployments, Microsoft emphasized its public cloud offerings, while also touting the hybrid approach.

“We are very serious about the cloud. We view it as a natural extension of on-premise software,” said Yousef Khalidi, a Microsoft distinguished engineer working on the Microsoft Azure cloud offering, during his talk. “We believe in a hybrid model going forward, that would span the whole spectrum.”

Cloud computing is different from simply rehosting, for a number of reasons, Khalidi said.

For one, applications must be built with “scale-out architectures, rather than scale-up architectures,” he said. This means that if you need an application to serve more users, you should be able to spin out more instances of that application. “You have to think about state in a different way.”

The software must be set up on a services-based operational model. “This model emphasizes application service management, not server management. If you still have to patch the virtual machines and worry about firewalls, then that’s not cloud computing. That’s more like hosting,” he said.

On the hardware side, the cloud model has to be one of “very large uniform systems,” he said. “The topology is basically fixed.” This approach minimizes the amount of configuration needed for setting up a new cloud-based service. This also allows a service to be run anywhere.

Khalidi’s talk focused on what enterprise cloud services Microsoft already runs. Versions of Windows Server, SQL Server, Microsoft Exchange and other Microsoft programs are available as a service, he noted.

The company also commercially offers its Windows Azure “operating system in the cloud,” which allows organizations to build and run their own cloud-based applications. The software is updated frequently and payments can be done on either per-usage or volume discounting.

“We want to provide you the power of choice: You decide, based on your business needs, where you want to [run] the application,” Khalidi told the audience. “You can acquire software and run it yourself, you [can] use a host model, a compute cloud model, or a hybrid model.”

One choice Khalidi did not discuss much was that of running a private cloud, or run services in a cloud model for internal consumption, from within an organization’s firewalls.

During the question-and-answer session, one audience member asked if Microsoft would release the Azure tools so they could be used for private clouds. Khalidi said the Microsoft would release these tools, but that “they are not there yet,” in terms of being packaged for private cloud use.

Later, in a chat with IDG News Service, Khalidi said that Microsoft plans not only to offer most of its software as cloud offerings, but also offer the technologies it uses for enabling cloud services as stand-alone products. The two will go hand-in-hand, he said.

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