Coming off of Oracle Open World, the message was clear: cloud, cloud and more cloud.
Larry Ellison called it the biggest industry transition since the desktop PC. In my words: cloud in all its sundry forms fundamentally re-invents how IT services are produced and consumed.
It's the new design pattern for enterprise IT architectures.
Turmoil and controversy abound as a result. On the vendor side, not all of the current industry players will cross the chasm. Many have tried, and are flailing. On the enterprise IT side, hard choices and big bets need to be made, and soon.
I've seen some of the industry press express skepticism around Oracle's cloud ambitions. While we're all entitled to our opinions, not all of us have the same insight into what really seems to be happening.
I've looked at cloud from my previous employers: EMC and VMware. I've worked with service providers on architectures and business models. And I've spent way too much time in the bowels of enterprise IT. I, too, am entitled to my opinions.
Here I present my personal, biased case for Oracle's cloud strategy in all its forms -- evaluated as a mature paradigm through the lens of enterprise IT. As always, none of this has been reviewed or approved by my employer, and I of course will take personal responsibility for any factual errors herein.
My History With Cloud
I was an early devotee of the Clouderati.
For example, early on I interviewed Nicholas Carr (author of The Big Switch and Does IT Matter?) just to get some initial perspective on what was starting to happen.
In 2008 and 2009 I blogged endlessly about public, private and hybrid clouds, and how they would fundamentally restructure how we thought about enterprise IT.
Starry-eyed stuff, as I go back and read it. At least I wasn't the only one!
It wasn't long, though, before I parted ways with the starry-eyed crowd. Reality struck. Most enterprise IT organizations weren't going to embrace external cloud services -- or the cloud operational model for in-house IT -- any time soon. And they had very good reasons.
As I remind people, enterprise IT is different.
Pick your favorite industry analyst, and ask them to segment how much IT is consumed on-premises vs. via an external cloud provider. The conclusion is simple: the vast majority of IT spend still remains in the data center -- although there is every sign that is beginning to change.
Here's the point: with regards to enterprise IT adoption, it's still early days in a very big game.
Remember when Netscape was supposed to rule the browser, and AOL the internet? I've learned not to declare early winners, especially when most of the market spend has yet to materialize.
Within enterprise IT, what's going to be first to go to the cloud?
Stuff that doesn't affect the core of the business: checklist SaaS applications, desktop productivity, test and development, long-term archiving and the like.
What's going to be the last to go to cloud?
Stuff that affects the core of the business: critical applications, sensitive data and the like.
This observation isn't rocket science, it's just human nature.
Put differently, the industry prize that's still in play is the bulk of enterprise IT spend around the stuff that matters. And the cloud provider that secures that franchise gets first crack at everything else.
My New Understanding Of Cloud
The original public cloud message went straight to the wallet: save money on capex and opex. Cloud operators had scale and automation that (theoretically) could save money over using in-house IT resources. Before long, the reality emerged: it all depends.
The public cloud message then evolved to being about infrastructure agility: public cloud services can react faster to changes in demand vs. stuff you do yourself. Spin-up, spin-down, anywhere.
That benefit has turned out to be largely true, simply because most cloud operators have greater scale, more data centers, preprovisioned services ready to go, etc. than in-house IT.
Now, the public cloud message is all about application agility: delivering new applications faster than before with modern development environments and tools. Not absolutely true: a well-designed in-house application factory can frequently offer many of the same benefits.
All of this has brought about an evolution in how I think about cloud these days. It is not a separate thing, it is best thought of as an end-to-end design pattern that changes the way we envision our next generation enterprise IT architectures.
Cloud demonstrates how IT services should be presented, how applications are to be developed, how operations are to be managed, and how infrastructure should be consumed. Taken this way, cloud does not insist that only public clouds must be used, but only presents them as yet another consumption option.
Cloud is an architecture. Cloud has grown up.
When my kids were younger, I measured them one way. Now that they are young adults, I measure them quite differently. If cloud has grown up, how should we measure it?
Criteria #1: Comprehensiveness
It's been true in on-premises enterprise IT for quite some time; having fewer comprehensive suppliers is strongly preferable to many niche suppliers. Better integration, less hassle, volume pricing -- all of that.
One would presume that this preference will apply to enterprise cloud as well.
Let's look at this through our enterprise IT eyes -- what's the preferred cloud stack, and -- more importantly how does it all work together as a whole vs. sum-of-pieces?
At the top, our ideal enterprise cloud supplier should have a broad library of SaaS industry applications; either used as-is, or as building blocks for newer applications that span categories. These should be able to be deployed on any mix of on-premises or external resources as needs and desires dictate.
Here, Oracle brings serious game. I won't go through the entire catalog, but let's just say there's quite a successful application portfolio to consider, and it continues to evolve at a frenetic pace.
Taking the paradigm further, Oracle has started offering Data-as-a-Service (DaaS), offering top-quality external data sets to enrich many of these SaaS applications.
By comparison, both AWS and Azure don't have much to say in the enterprise application category, which I would argue puts them at a strategic disadvantage.
However, SaaS without PaaS isn't all that appealing. You want to be able to extend and integrate application building blocks, and create entirely new applications. PaaS without SaaS is also unappealing; it would be great to start with proven application components, and extend from there.
Again, here Oracle brings huge game around the Java platform, in addition to supporting all sorts of other popular frameworks and tools.
Next up is IaaS, of course. In an ideal world, SaaS+PaaS would be able to interact directly with optimized infrastructure, whether in the cloud, in the data center, or both.
In addition to IaaS interacting closely with SaaS and PaaS, you'd also like to expose attractive infrastructure services (compute, storage, data protection, archiving, etc.) for other parts of the landscape.
Here, once again Oracle brings game. Not only generic Intel/Linux white-box compute, but differentiated SPARC/Solaris if you're looking for something, errr, more specialized. The lowest cost per terabyte of any storage archive in the market. The ability to precisely control service levels (performance, availability, recoverability, etc.) in a way that the other guys can't.
Basically, all the infrastructure stuff you'd want for your enterprise cloud.
Because enterprise IT is different.
Criteria #2 -- Compatibility
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the ability for enterprise IT shops to choose between 100% compatible consumption options is *huge*. Here's why: the next enterprise IT architecture isn't all about the data center, or all about the cloud -- it's about *both* working closely together.
IT has long been working to standardize technology and operational models within the data center, and for good operational reasons: less effort, less complexity.
Add cloud to the equation, and we're just drawing a bigger perimeter around where we'd like to have standard capabilities and operations.
True, Microsoft has footprint in the enterprise, and they're clearly working towards harmonizing Azure and their datacenter offerings -- all smart moves. By comparison, AWS is nowhere to be seen in this all-important on-premises operational compatibility discussion.
Now, let's look at it a different way. Imagine it's a few years from now, and let's say you've got your critical applications spread between on-premises and a healthy helping of public cloud resources. Suppose there's a problem involving the two, and you're not quite sure where to start.
How important does it become to work with a vendor that's responsible for *both* sides of the wire?
As I keep reminding the armchair cloud pundits: enterprise IT is different.
Criteria #3 -- Cloud-Native For The Enterprise
Cloud-native applications are a real thing, even for enterprise IT. They're built differently, and they're operated differently than traditional enterprise applications.
That's what modern PaaS is all about.
But in an enterprise world, cloud-native apps don't live in a vacuum: they often source data from existing databases, and use those same databases to capture system-of-record transactions.
Rarely does someone get to start fresh with a blank sheet of paper.
Given this context, there's a lot to like here in the Oracle portfolio -- a richly mature cloud-native enterprise PaaS that's been proven to deliver the goods. Better yet, Oracle PaaS knows about infrastructure and how to work with it.
This is where I part company with PaaS vendors promoting the fantasy of being "cloud-agnostic": sooner or later, every serious application has to interact with hardware. Details matter in the real world.
The latest cool, shiny thing in Oracle's strategy is the interestingly named Oracle Private Cloud Machine for PaaS and IaaS. Yes, that is the real name.
Here's the hugely attractive idea: Oracle developed a cloud-native PaaS+IaaS engine for the Oracle Cloud. This new product is the *exact* same technology now packaged for data center use.
It's not an exaggeration to call it "cloud in a box", because that's precisely what it is: platform, tools, operational model, everything. And, of course, it seamlessly interoperates with equivalent resources in the Oracle Cloud using a single management tool for both.
It'll be interesting to see whether the other big cloud players can do something similar.
Criteria #4 -- Choice
No surprise: not everyone wants to use Oracle software technology exclusively.
As you dig through both the on-premises and cloud options, there's significant and meaningful choice: different databases, different operating systems, containers, OpenStack, different framework and tooling choices, etc. etc.
All your favorite names.
Yes, Oracle has plenty of licensed offerings in the stack, but if prefer mashing together different open source technologies -- have at it.
Even a choice of CPU architecture. How many cloud stacks offer that? :)
Criteria #5 -- Consistency
It takes a while to appreciate this, but as you invest the time to go through Oracle's sprawling cloud portfolio, there emerges a sense of design with purpose.
Each product stands on its own merits (or not), but -- taken together -- they are clearly designed and engineered to work together. Having worked with, err, other sprawling portfolios, that's not always the case.
There is a clear yet pragmatic vision of future enterprise IT in evidence. It spans from mobile applications to CPU architecture, integrating datacenter and cloud into a seamless whole. There is no shortage of in-house technology and resources to pull it off. It is both breathtaking and exhausting in scope and comprehensiveness.
It presents as a complete and consistent response to the next generation of enterprise IT architectures. Today, I would argue there is no equivalent offering.
If you agree with me on a few basic premises, e.g (1) cloud is a design pattern for next generation IT architectures, (2) cloud architecture is independent of consumption model, (3) a full and integrated stack is preferred, (4) enterprise IT requirements are different -- well, how do the other guys stack up?
AWS, despite what they'd like you to think, isn't all that attractive for the core of enterprise IT. There are no enterprise applications, and there is no technical and operational compatibility with what's happening in the data center. The fundamental message seems to be "life can be great, just start over with our stuff".
Certainly not an option for 99.99% of enterprise IT shops I've met.
I do expect them to grow and continue to be a powerful force in the cloud business; but not entirely successful in the enterprise -- the chasm is just too big to cross.
Salesforce is certainly a force to be reckoned with, but through my lens, they have rather singular focus on sales and marketing. While important, an enterprise runs on much more than that. They don't own any significant IP other than their application, preventing them from being a full-stack cloud player. The same generally holds true for Workday. And neither appear to be strong at deploying in the data center.
Microsoft's Azure is more interesting to me. They're well along the path of cloudifying their core enterprise desktop franchise, they can do PaaS, but currently come up short on both deploying infrastructure on-premises as well as credibility with larger-scale enterprise applications.
Going to the next tier down, IBM strikes me as "dark matter". I'm pretty sure it's out there, I'm just looking for hard evidence to prove it has any mass. Besides, everyone is wondering which piece of its business IBM will shed next. SAP is a powerhouse in enterprise applications, but "cloud" for them largely means a SaaS consumption model. They don't do infrastructure, weak on PaaS, etc.
Dell, EMC, VMware, HP, Cisco, et. al. -- not really able to play this grown up cloud game as defined above. Not that they're not great companies, they're just lacking big, critical components in the full-stack world.
The Bottom Line
For me cloud has obviously grown up, and become the design pattern for next generation enterprise IT architectures. It fundamentally changes the way IT services are produced and consumed.
Some IT groups will move quickly, most will move at a more measured pace. Some IT vendors will cross the chasm, others won't.
Final thought: I'm usually not a big fan of keynotes and demos, but this one was amazing: Thomas Kurian ("Oracle Software Innovations" on this page) walking through how the Oracle Cloud can change the way enterprise IT is done.
It changed the way I think about cloud, and maybe it'll do the same for you as well.
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