Shining a light on Oracle Cloud

An interview with Senior Vice President Abhay Parasnis offers insight on the inner workings, ultimate intent of Oracle Cloud

It's been over a month since Larry Ellison strutted across the stage and unveiled Oracle Cloud and its first three enterprise applications: CRM, human capital management, and enterprise social networking. Plus, Ellison took the wraps off cloud versions of WebLogic and Oracle Database itself.

All told, Oracle's fearless leader said that more than 100 applications would be available, including ERP eventually -- typically the last application category enterprise customers consider trusting to the cloud.

[ For more on Oracle Cloud, see InfoWorld's exclusive interview with Oracle's Mark Hurd. | Also check out InfoWorld's PDF special reports: Our "Private Cloud Deep Dive," our "Cloud Security Deep Dive," our "Cloud Storage Deep Dive," and our "Cloud Services Deep Dive." ]

Quite a few responses to the announcement have been cynical: another golden opportunity for Oracle lock-in. Or: The same old stuff, now available by subscription through the cloud at rates Oracle hasn't even seen fit to announce yet. Some even questioned whether it was a cloud offering at all, since Oracle touted the fact that each customer would get its own instance of the software.

But it's too early to pass judgment, precisely because so many questions about Oracle Cloud remain. At this early stage, you won't find many customers willing to talk, since Oracle is onboarding them one by one -- basically, you register and get in the queue.

To gain more insight into Oracle Cloud, InfoWorld Executive Editor Doug Dineley and I spent an hour interviewing Abhay Parasnis, senior vice president of Oracle Cloud. First of all, we wondered, why the highly controlled rollout?

Oracle won't disclose the current number of customers, but Parasnis said this was not because the applications themselves were unfinished. He gave a different explanation:

A lot of the customer base that is interested, as you can imagine, is the enterprise-class customer base, which is used to a certain level of stability and platform robustness when dealing with Oracle. Not to diminish some of the other players in the market, but they're not doing this as "let's just try out a toy application somewhere." I think the expectation, regardless of how slow or fast they start, is an enterprise-grade platform.

This cautious approach indicates perhaps the biggest difference between Oracle Cloud and other SaaS and PaaS (platform as a service) offerings. Salesforce.com, for example, has been proud of "sneaking" its SaaS apps into the enterprise; lines of business decide they can't get what they want from IT and turn to a SaaS provider instead. By contrast, Oracle seems intent on walking in the front door and selling to upper enterprise management of existing Oracle customers.

This focus on enterprises needs extends to the way Oracle will push out upgrades. As Parasnis explained:

When there comes a time when the vendor is ready to either upgrade or release new functionality, there are two broad schools of thought in the market today. For you to get the benefits of SaaS, where somebody else is going to manage your application, you must sign up to give up control in terms of when and how and what cadence you will actually upgrade your users to the new version, new workflows, or new capabilities. For some companies, or for some applications, that may be acceptable. For most enterprise users, ideally what they want are the benefits that cloud upholds in terms of somebody else managing the footprint and the lifecycle of applications, hopefully a lower cost structure. But more importantly, they don't want to lose the control.

To accommodate that desire for control, said Parasnis, Oracle will provide upgrade windows and work with customers to determine a convenient time to make the transition to new functionality or new versions. Now, of course, this is possible only because Oracle Cloud applications are not multitenanted. Instead of one huge instance of an application, to which all customers subscribe, Oracle deploys one instance per customer, which from a security standpoint supports greater isolation among customer data stores as well.

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