Oracle’s investments in its infrastructure-as-a-service architecture, especially as they apply to helping companies move existing data center workloads into the cloud, reveal where Oracle expects to differentiate its IaaS offerings from those of Amazon Web Services.
Why should business or government leaders care about this technical differentiation? “They’ll try to move their stuff to other clouds, and they’ll find out they can’t move it,” says Clay Magouyrk, vice president of engineering for Oracle’s cloud infrastructure service and a former Amazon engineer. “This is why they should care.”
Let’s make this real by digging into just two of the many IaaS technical decisions Oracle has made: off-box virtualization and account management of cloud resources.
Stay with me here—these sound in the weeds technically, but we’ll tie them directly to how they help established companies and government agencies move to the cloud in order to reduce or even eliminate their in-house data centers. These are capabilities available in Oracle Cloud today.
1. Off-box virtualization.
When an IT team buys IaaS compute capacity, it generally gets a slice of a server inside a cloud supplier’s data center. With most cloud vendors, that server has virtualization software on it, so that the provider can carve that machine up to let several of its customers share it, as virtual machines.
Oracle, in contrast, offers the option of what it calls Bare Metal Cloud Service , in which the cloud-based server has no code from Oracle on it—no virtualization software and no software for billing or usage monitoring. All of that administrative work happens “off box,” giving customers the full performance of today’s increasingly powerful hardware.
In a world in which solid-state drives have millions of input/output operations per second, that virtualization code that other providers use crimps IaaS performance, Magouyrk says. “You’re paying for hardware that cloud suppliers then slow you down to use,” he says. “Isn’t that awesome? No, actually, I would like you to get out of the way and give me the whole machine I paid for.”
Oracle also uses off-box virtualization in IaaS offerings other than Bare Metal Cloud, for organizations that want only a slice of a machine—say, just a one-core virtual machine. Because that hypervisor runs off-box in a layered approach, it means an IT team can use any hypervisor it wants. So an IT organization built around VMware, KVM, or Xen can keep using those tools. Or it can use virtual machines for development and testing and then run production apps on Bare Metal, all in the same Oracle IaaS environment.
Doing off-box virtualization is one way Oracle is replicating the best parts of the in-house data center experience—uncompromised hardware performance, in this case, and choice of virtualization tools—while still giving IT teams all of the flexibility of cloud computing, such as the ability to spin up capacity in minutes and pay only for what they use.
With Oracle’s Bare Metal Cloud environment, IT organizations can move existing workloads into Oracle Cloud—running on most any database, using Linux or Windows—without having to rewrite their applications.
2. Account management—accountability for central IT, freedom for developers.
Oracle’s IaaS offerings let a company or government agency set up a centralized account management and billing system with multiple subgroups. That system lets central IT turn developers loose with the compute power they need to build and experiment, while setting limits on spending and usage. IT can allocate resources by department, or just monitor use and ask for alerts beyond certain thresholds.
In contrast, the policies and IaaS architectures of other IaaS providers grew up to serve small customers, says Magouyrk. “What those customers want is very different from what the largest banks in America want,” says Magouyrk, who spent six years at Amazon.
Of course, IaaS providers like AWS have scaled to serve large customers, but the vast majority of enterprise IT workloads remain in corporate and government data centers, not in the cloud. Magouyrk cites two reasons: Organizations are still cautious about moving mission-critical workloads to the cloud, and the first-mover IaaS providers haven’t catered enough to enterprise needs.
Companies wrestling with how to move mission-critical IT workloads are looking for more than a “we built the cloud, you run with it” relationship with their IaaS providers, says Deepak Patil, Oracle IaaS product development vice president, who previously worked on Microsoft’s Azure cloud. “The conversations I’m having with CIOs, CFOs, and CTOs are about building a three-, four-, five-year partnership as they move their entire stack to the cloud and get out of the data center business,” Patil says.
Beyond these technical examples, Oracle relies on two strategic advantages as it helps organizations move critical apps to its cloud. One is Oracle’s nearly four decades of understanding and meeting the needs of those customers. Second is the new talent (such as Magouyrk and Patil) it has hired from first-generation cloud infrastructure companies. With that hiring, Oracle now has close to 1,000 engineers focused entirely on applying what they learned building large-scale cloud infrastructure in the past to Oracle’s second generation of IaaS.
“I have learned a ton about what it means to build an enterprise cloud by just being here the past two-and-a-half years,” Magouyrk says. “I think about the world differently, and I think about the product we should build differently.”
Chris Murphy is director of cloud content for Oracle.