Oracle signals change of tone about cloud

Even as Oracle kills off the critically acclaimed Sun cloud offering, it prepares a PR blitz to proclaim its cloud strategy: the software arms dealer to the cloud-computing stars.

James Urquhart
James Urquhart is a field technologist with almost 20 years of experience in distributed-systems development and deployment, focusing on service-oriented architectures, cloud computing, and virtualization. James is a market strategist for cloud computing at Cisco Systems and an adviser to EnStratus, though the opinions expressed here are strictly his own. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET.
James Urquhart
3 min read

Software heavyweight Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems has (and will have) a wide impact on the technology market.

Oracle's strategy of targeting an "all in one" relationship with its customers--providing hardware, software, and services--is something to which the rest of the high-technology industry will have to pay close attention. Modeling yourself after the "IBM of the 1960s" is not a bad target, especially when you consider market share.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison Dan Farber/CNET

However, when it comes to cloud computing, Oracle has taken a fairly "arm's length" position. CEO Larry Ellison's famous "cloud is fashion" rant sort of set the tone for the company's perceived skepticism toward the cloud model.

Apparently, that's all about to change. According to TechTarget, Oracle is preparing a public-relations onslaught, intended to change the perception of Oracle as cloud critic. According to the article, in the Webcast Oracle hosted last week to discuss its strategy for the Sun assets, Ellison explained:

Said Ellison: "Everything's called cloud now. If you're in the data center, it's a private cloud. There's nothing left but cloud computing. People say I'm against cloud computing--how can I be against cloud computing when that's all there is?"

He also stressed what will doubtless become another key Oracle message, which is that Oracle software (and soon hardware) powers other people's clouds.

That statement says a lot about the behavior we've seen from Oracle over the last year, especially with respect to the Sun acquisition. When originally announced, I suggested to some that Oracle would shed the hardware business, and concentrate on the virtualization and cloud capabilities (as well as the customer base and channels) that they acquired.

I was wrong. Instead, Oracle seems to be focusing on Sun's infrastructure portfolio, including servers, storage, and virtualization, shedding the cloud offerings altogether.

Sun's chief technology officer of cloud computing, Lew Tucker, has already left Oracle, and this week, there are reports that Oracle executives have confirmed the demise of Sun's reborn Network.com offering. The service, once hosted in the Las Vegas-based SuperNAP data center, was taken off the market soon after it went to beta testing, as Oracle announced its intent to acquire Sun.

The now-defunct cloud infrastructure service was a replacement for Sun's earlier failed grid offering of $1 per CPU-hour, and it was targeted at developers looking to create new applications and businesses expressly for the cloud. The service was acclaimed by a number of developers that had a chance to use it, and it is reported to have hosted 13 customers and 48 applications before its demise.

Without an infrastructure service of its own, Oracle seems to be taking a tack with which I'm quite familiar, given my role at Cisco Systems: being an arms dealer to the stars of cloud computing. Ellison mentioned Oracle's role in Salesforce.com and iTunes during last week's Webcast, and it has been offering its database software on Amazon.com's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service for well more than a year.

What remains to be seen is what, exactly, Oracle will offer the cloud world. Based on Ellison's tone, it may be playing a "business as usual" game, with the obvious addition of data center hardware to its portfolio. In fact, some evidence supports this direction, as Oracle recently presented a cloud vision in a Webinar that claims, among other things, that Oracle already has a "private PaaS," or platform as a service, portfolio based on its existing application server, database, Linux, and virtualization products.

However, with the Sun acquisition, Oracle received one of the best open-source virtualization offerings out there, as well as a variety of cloud computing-related software (including the Q-Layer automation platform). Will it offer a private cloud user experience of its own?

In the end, Ellison's love-hate relationship with the term "cloud computing" may provide a short-term PR challenge, but it will likely do little to damage the impact of Oracle's products on the cloud-computing landscape.