To say that Larry Ellison is not a fan of cloud computing would be an understatement of the century. His September 2009 anti-cloud rant that calls cloud computing “complete gibberish” has received hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and other social media sites. One of the most telling sentences in his rant is:

We’ll make cloud computing announcements. I’m not going to fight this thing. But I don’t understand what we would do differently in the light of cloud computing other than change the wording of some of our ads.

And change ads they did. Fast forward to Oracle OpenWorld 2010 and everything we see is painted with “Cloud Computing”. When Larry Ellison came up the stage he introduced Oracle’s new “Exalogic as “… a cloud in a box”. What a difference a year makes. Last year he would have described it as “gibberish in a box”.

Cloud is about OPEX and Oracle Exalogic is all about CAPEX

But let’s give Oracle’s leader a benefit of a doubt. Maybe Exalogic is indeed a cloud-in-a-box? When people talk about cloud computing there are some very specific benefits that they call out. One of them is this idea of being able to minimise CAPEX (capital expense) and replace it with OPEX (operating expense). In today’s economic climate it has become more difficult than ever to find capital to put towards IT infrastructure so this switch away from CAPEX is treasured by CFO and CIO alike. Ellison opined “Exalogic is Big Iron without a big price.” $1 million plus starting price may not be big if you are sixth richest person in the world but for the rest of us that is a heck of a lot of money. And it is 100% CAPEX. Strike one against Exalogic as a cloud offering.

“Elastic” is written on the box but is missing from theOracle Exalogic box

Another coveted benefit of cloud computing is “Elasticity” a term coined by Amazon. What it refers to is ability to allocate IT capacity on demand and, more important, reduce IT resource usage when demand wanes. The draw of the elastic nature of the cloud is not lost on Oracle’s marketing. Oracle pinned “Elastic Cloud” phrase to all mentions of Exalogic. The truth is Exalogic is just about as elastic as a brick. When you need more capacity you will write another million dollar cheque to Oracle. This assumes, of course, that you had a foresight to get this money in your capital budget and you can get an approval to spend (not an insignificant consideration). Then you will wait for the order to be processed and machine to be built, delivered and installed. Oh, and one must not forget that you do have to have space in your data center and sufficient power and cooling capacity. It just so happens these are the very considerations that are driving people to cloud computing. So, a few months and a million $ later you may get extra power that you needed months back. Just for comparison, it takes me about 6 minutes to create a DB2 server on the Amazon EC2 cloud and I don’t have to ask anyone for permission or budget and it costs me 8.5 cents per hour. Strike two against Exalogic being a cloud machine.

Cloud is about paying only for what you use. Oracle Exalogic is about over-provisioning.

It is even more interesting to think about what happens when demand drops and you want “elasticity” to kick in in reverse and let you save money for resources you are no longer using. With Exalogic your best course of action is to start unplugging modules to save on power and cooling until you eventually unplug the whole rack and, as a result, have a nice big anchor that can be used to secure BMW Oracle Racing boat. Side note: Congratulations to the team for winning the 34th America’s Cup. The point is that paying only for the resources that you use is what cloud computing is all about. Amazon, IBM, Rackspace and other public cloud providers set the expectation that you can rent compute capacity by the hour and only pay for it for the hours that you’ve used. While this is the standard in the public cloud and is a lot more difficult to achieve in the “private cloud”. Whatever hardware platform one chooses to use to build a private cloud will have some degree of the issues that I highlighted before. Reality is that to build a private cloud you first need to get some equipment in to your data center. To do this the cloud way, you will want to assemble inexpensive hardware and utilise virtualization not pile the most expensive boutique components you can find. Take a look at the picture of the server that is used by Google, the masters of cost efficient IT.

The server that Google uses

Oracle’s Exalogic propagates the traditional approach of large scale over provisioning; the exact problem that IT leaders looking to cloud computing to solve. This makes Oracle Exalogic a subject to the Three strikes law.

Where is self service?

Three strikes should be sufficient but there is another reason I don’t see Exalogic as having anything to do with the “cloud”. Cloud computing, be that private, public or hybrid cloud is about self service. There is a huge benefit in productivity and a corresponding cost reduction when employees can request IT resources and have these resources provisioned with minimal or no involvement from IT personel. Try as I may, I was not able to find any mention of self service functionality. There is Oracle Enterprise Manager that helps in the overall operation of the Exalogic but nothing for the consumer of this supposedly “cloud” to use.

Vendor lock-in in a box

The most ridiculous part about Oracle’s positioning of Exalogic as cloud-in-a-box, however is the claim of openness in the face of continuos stream of claims that it is optimized for Oracle software. Everything from the hardware level to the very top of the application stack is branded Oracle. The operating system on the box is Oracle Linux or Oracle Solaris. How many middleware or application vendors (other than Oracle) certify their offerings on Oracle Linux? The answer is “a lot fewer than certify on Novell SUSE or Red Hat. A little up the stack you have Oracle JRockit and Hotspot with Oracle WebLogic and Coherence, a Java application serving stack that is a way behind in usage compared to the IBM WebSphere. So, one has to presume that you can run non-Oracle software but you will have to build it on the Oracle stack. I guess that is what Larry Ellison meant when he said “I don’t understand what we would do differently in the light of cloud computing other than change the wording of some of our ads.”

I am not arguing the merits of having a purpose-built large scale hardware platform. I am sure there are IT managers in all Oracle shops who will find Oracle Exalogic to be an interesting platform. In my opinion, however, Oracle Exalogic can be no more described as “cloud-in-a-box” than any PC server you get from your local computer store. Actually, I would put it a notch below that on the “cloud” scale. Oracle Exalogic is a closed proprietary system that propagates the expensive IT practices of over purchasing capacity leading to low utilization rates. It lacks the required elasticity and consumption based pricing, and it does nothing to reduce operating costs through self-service. It may very well be a great hardware box, I don’t have an opinion on that, but there is no cloud in that box.

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