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Posted September 25, 2013

Oracle Options DB to Cloud, but Beware of the Fine Print

By Chris Preimesberger

SAN FRANCISCO—Even without CEO Larry Ellison, who chose to celebrate his America's Cup team's double win over New Zealand Sept. 24 in lieu of delivering a keynote speech about the Oracle Cloud, the show went on as scheduled at Oracle OpenWorld 2013.

No worries. Oracle drafted Thomas Kurian, executive vice president of software development, to pinch hit for Ellison and announce that the company has done what some people hardly thought possible: It is making its current 11g and new 12c databases available as a cloud service.

That's not all. Java, the remote programming language that has run on the Internet since the early days in the mid-1990s, will now become an Oracle service, as will a new version of its infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

Three Flavors of Cloud Database Service

The subscription database comes in three flavors: basic; managed, in which Oracle itself manages the database; or maximum availability, which requires Oracle's Real Application Cluster hardware and Data Guard software.

Within the cloud service, Oracle provides several key management features, including backup, patch management and application tuning.

Thus, Kurian said, customers can focus on their business requirements, using the database and building their applications. They don't have to be concerned with pesky database management chores, which historically have been a pain in the neck for database administrators and data center managers alike for years.

"We take care of managing it for you," Kurian said. "That’s a big difference between what we are doing and what anyone else is doing."

Reaching Out to Midrange?

On the surface, these moves, which reform and reallocate some of Oracle's most precious assets, represent the company's most compelling attempt to attract the midrange market in years. Oracle has always traded in the high-end enterprise market, and most of its business is incremental and recurring, involving current customers who have long been locked in to the company's software licenses.

New customers are getting harder to come by in this new on-demand and mobile IT age. Oracle knows it needs to branch out and allow more flexibility in how its products are deployed. Two key industry metrics bear this out: a) few new companies are building data centers; and b) even fewer new companies are building large enough data centers to incorporate all the heavy-lifting equipment in which Oracle specializes.

For a company that has sold on-premises software for all those years and has been marketing data center hardware—though not very well—for nearly four years, this everything-as-a-service trend certainly offers new options for customers. How it will affect its existing multibillion-dollar data center products business in the long run is another question, although Oracle believes that anything it sells is good for everything else it sells.

Subscribing to DB Cloud Not a Trivial Pursuit

However, subscribing to an Oracle database in the cloud isn't as easy as swiping a credit card and paying by the drink; there are a few catches here. First of all, it's not a available on a month-to-month basis like most cloud services. You must sign at least a one-year contract.

Even though the 11g and 12c databases will be made available by subscription, they still have to run on Oracle virtual machines and use Oracle middleware. All those licenses—and the costs are still considerable—will still be required to use the service. The only up-front capital expenditure savings is on the hardware, and yes, that too is considerable.

The virtual machines (VMs) work on commodity hardware, but performance isn't nearly as good as when they're housed in Oracle's engineered-together servers and interact with the company's own middleware, analytics apps and storage arrays.

Just ask Oracle, which claims to have pre-tested everything it sells. But can it test its cloud services in the same manner?

Originally published on eWeek.

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