Oracle prepares to enter PaaS wars

BOSTON — Oracle may lay out how it plans to become a player in the burgeoning PaaS (platform as a service) market next week during a webcast event featuring CEO Larry Ellison and co-president Mark Hurd.

The company first announced Oracle Public Cloud at the OpenWorld conference in October. The Public Cloud header encompasses Oracle applications delivered as SaaS (software as a service) as well as PaaS features, including the Java Cloud Service and Database Cloud Service.

Oracle already announced the availability of Fusion HCM (human capital management) and CRM (customer relationship management) via the Public Cloud, but so far the PaaS components have remained available only on a “preview availability” basis. It’s possible that Ellison and Hurd will declare those services are generally available.

Company spokeswoman Deborah Hellinger declined to provide more details on the announcements planned for the event, which will also include discussion of “game-changing advances in Oracle Support.”

Many details about the PaaS services have already been made available on Oracle’s website, meaning that the interest in next week’s event may center on specifics about strategy, pricing and delivery dates.

Java Cloud Service allows developers to create Java Enterprise Edition-based applications using standards such as JSP, JSF, JPA and JAX-WS, according to the Public Cloud website. It’s also possible to use third-party Java frameworks such as Hibernate and Spring. In addition, a range of Java IDEs (integrated development environments) are supported.

Overall, the service isn’t dependent on a particular tool as long as the application being built uses supported features, but developers will gain advantages from various productivity tools Oracle has developed, according to a FAQ document.

Meanwhile, the Database Cloud Service uses version 11g Release 2 of the Oracle database, with high availability and data encryption provided.

Access can come “directly from the cloud” via Oracle Application Express, through Oracle Java Cloud Service applications using JDBC, and from any other development platform that supports REST (representational state transfer) Web services, according to Oracle’s site.

Oracle Public Cloud is run on top of Oracle’s Exadata and Exalogic appliances, which combine its software with a specialized arrangement of hardware and networking equipment. This approach differs from other cloud platforms, which tend to run large farms of commodity servers.

Ellison and Hurd may also tout Public Cloud’s advanced security and system management features as advantages over the competition.

Subscriptions will be available globally but at launch, there will only be data centers in the U.S., according to a FAQ document. Oracle will add centers in Europe and Asia Pacific according to demand, it adds.

Oracle plans to follow common practices in how it charges for the platform services, with pricing slotted into multiple tiers and made “elastic for usage growth and shrinkage.”

While Oracle has the technology required to build a credible, enterprise-class PaaS, success in that market really depends on “winning over the hearts and minds of developers,” said Geva Perry, author of the Thinking Out Cloud blog and an adviser to cloud computing companies.

To this end, Oracle may make acquisitions in the PaaS space, more to gain developer user bases than technology, Perry added.

In doing this, Oracle would follow a similar path to, which started out with a homegrown platform but more recently bought PaaS vendor Heroku, which has many adherents among Ruby developers.

There are a number of Java-centric PaaS vendors that would make likely acquisition targets for Oracle, including CloudBees and CumuLogic.

Still, Oracle isn’t necessarily hoping to generate massive amounts of pure PaaS revenue with Public Cloud, instead using it partly as a hedge against competing PaaS offerings who might tempt its user base, according to Perry.

“In the end Oracle is going to try to do what they always do, which is bundle it with other licenses and shove it down the throats of their enterprise customers, who are already locked in,” he said. For example, Oracle could throw in a US$1 million credit for use with the Public Cloud PaaS when signing a big on-premise database license deal, Perry said.

Oracle is entering the PaaS market at a busy time and will compete with the likes of Microsoft Azure, VMware Cloud Foundry and Amazon Web Services.

But there’s room for multiple players in PaaS because the “tipping point” won’t arrive until 2016 when more than half of all spending on applications will occur in the cloud, according to analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research. Constellation estimates that overall spending on public cloud services will grow from $28.2 billion in 2011 to $80.1 billion in 2016, numbers that include everything from infrastructure to applications, according to Wang.

“I think it’s important for them to be cost competitive,” Wang said of Oracle. “Their benchmark has to be Azure, even though they’re not going to like that.” If Oracle wants a solid developer ecosystem for its Public Cloud, it in turn will need to provide those developers with an attractive revenue model, Wang added.

But Oracle Public Cloud may suffer from a lack of glitz, in the view of Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst John Rymer. “If you look at the work they’ve done it’s nothing groundbreaking here at all. It’s a credible offering but I don’t see it’s going to generate a whole lot of business.”

The primary role Oracle Public Cloud will provide is the delivery and support of Java-based SaaS applications, chiefly Oracle’s own, Rymer said. “Whatever they do in PaaS is strictly there for customization of the SaaS. It’s really about offering industry-based SaaS solutions and providing the Java cloud environment to do the customization.”

To this end, Rymer doesn’t expect Oracle will make any serious effort to out price the likes of Azure. “There’s a higher-level business value proposition here, tied to SaaS,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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