Q&A: Oracle's future lies in cloud, APIs, and microservices

In addition to its Java work, the company is moving forward with cloud deployments, but will keep accommodating behind-the-firewall installations

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In addition to Java, Oracle has been focusing lately on cloud, chatbots, and APIs. InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill met with Oracle's Amit Zavery, senior vice president of Oracle Cloud, at this week's DeveloperWeek conference in San Francisco to talk about the company's technology directions.

InfoWorld: How are microservices and chatbots driving enterprises to an API-first strategy, the notion of which was posed in a description of your upcoming presentation?

Zavery: Chatbots are really an API-driven way of interacting and building using the underlying technology associated with chatbots. As a developer, you shouldn't have to worry about the intent and all the algorithms and the AI and the neural network technology, which they use inside the chatbot in many cases. You want an ability to take your development APIs and say, this is an application I want to have interaction points from, then underlying it could be a mobile app. It could be a chatbot-based interaction through messenger services like Facebook Messenger, V-chat, WhatChat. As a developer, you shouldn't have to worry about using chatbots as long as you have the right kind of interface to it.

InfoWorld: Does Oracle have a story in AI and machine learning?

Zavery: We've been using a lot of machine-learning-based algorithms underneath the covers for the products for many years, and if you look at some of the things we're doing on the application side, we've been adding capabilities to do a lot of intelligent applications. What we're now doing is exposing a lot of the neural network and ML algorithms through our interfaces and applications, so as the developer, you don't have to worry about learning how those things are built, but you're getting the advantage of it when you try using some of the platform pieces from us. For example, if you're doing data cleansing, the way to do data cleansing and data inference as well as data blending has to be done a lot more intelligently than just doing a rule-based thing, and that's where ML and AI stuff happen.

InfoWorld: Oracle has gone from Larry Ellison's famous "what the hell is cloud computing?" remark to trying to become a major player in cloud. Why should enterprises go with Oracle instead of Google, Microsoft Azure, Heroku, or other platforms?

Zavery: There are many differentiations. One, we've been very clearly working on this for many years. Irrespective of whatever the perception might be, we have been investing in the cloud for 10-plus years. If you add all the things we've been doing over the last six or seven years, we have a full track record of having a full-blown cloud platform available to thousands of customers using it today. It's a full, integrated stack all the way from apps to platform to infrastructure, so it's a well-thought-out modern architecture. We're using a lot of open source technology, a lot of standards-based technology, and we've kept it flexible enough for customers to deploy this in the cloud or their own datacenter. As a customer, you are not locked into one way of doing things.

InfoWorld: What does Oracle provide as a way to move to another cloud?

Zavery: We allow you to move data very easily. All the applications and the business logic are standards-based, so we can support other databases in our cloud. We have the ability to take the full stack we have on our cloud and run it at a customer site if you choose, so you're not completely beholden to running it in the public cloud.

InfoWorld: What's next for Oracle's cloud push?

Zavery: The big thing we are doing is really making sure we can support all the different use cases and workloads customers have. No doubt we can run all the Oracle workloads on the Oracle Cloud, where you can bring in our applications, the database, and all those things as well as now we're supporting a lot of third-party workloads. You can bring in an application built on MongoDB, an application built on Cassandra, you're running some other data integration technology or whatever else may be the thing you have chosen, and you can run those applications and the workloads. We provide easy migration moving the data into it as well as connecting those applications together.

InfoWorld: Do you see a day when Oracle's behind-the-firewall software goes away?

Zavery: If you look today at the Oracle database, the first release we do on it is in the cloud now. The ability to provide new releases in the cloud is much faster than on-prem. [But] if a customer wants to use this behind the firewall, we are going to support them and continue to help them run their businesses. We don't want to completely say, "Hey, shut down your business and move to one model only," because I think it's hard for Oracle to dictate what a customer model should be other than helping them support the journey they want to be on. Our goal has always been that if you want to take your workload and move it to the cloud, we'll support you in the journey. But I don't want to throw away your investment completely.

We do believe in the long term the cloud-first mentality is becoming prevalent across our customer base as well as new customers we speak to, but there is also a need for connectivity into the existing infrastructure, existing investment customers have made. If you can connect that together and provide that ability to move workloads seamlessly, move capacity seamlessly as well as supporting their journey, I think that's a win-win for us and the customers. We want to have hybrid mechanisms support existing investments while providing a cloud-first, native experience as well.

InfoWorld: This is shifting gears a bit, but I think it will be in your territory. There was a lot of controversy and criticism over Oracle allegedly neglecting Java EE. Then the company unveiled a plan to retool EE for microservices and cloud, with the two versions of EE to come out. Has the criticism died down since then?    

Zavery: Needless to say, the Java community is a passionate community, and we are a part of the community. It's part of the evolution of working through what the next-generation plans are. As part of the community process we have for Java, we have a lot of other non-Oracle members, of course, and a lot of companies who participate and work together to figure out what the next-generation releases will be. I think we have a very good dialog with our community partners. Where we are today I think is very win-win, in terms of delivering a next-generation platform.

InfoWorld: How are you defining community partners? Is that customers? Vendors?

Zavery: It's a combination -- some heavy users as well as a lot of vendors. IBM is a part of the community. There are a lot of other companies that provide Java-based technologies in the industry like Red Hat. They are part of the discussions.

InfoWorld: There has also been a MicroProfile that has come out for Java and another Java microservices framework, java-micro. Are you seeing this proliferation of Java microservices technologies aside from what Oracle is doing?

Zavery: No. Oracle is right in the center of building out and delivering a Java-based next-generation platform. We are quite aggressive in terms of making sure we support all the Java adoption in the industry. Today, if you look at Java, the community is very strong as well as if you look at a lot of the evolution and innovation happening. It's a lot of interesting stuff going on, and we are very much part and parcel of that.

InfoWorld: The CEO of Heroku, Adam Gross, mentioned that if you have code that's older than three years old, you're probably reconfiguring it for microservices. What advice does Oracle have for companies moving to microservices?

Zavery: The reality is microservices is not a brand-new concept. People used to talk about service-based architectures and SOA for many, many years. The evolution is natural where modular-based programming, building nonmonolithic applications and building an API-based interface is Computer Science 101. We believe that. Folks, when they started writing the applications, a lot of the technology and the platform didn't support some of the standards and ability.

Now I think the platform from Oracle and a lot of other vendors are starting to really support that ability to write it in many languages, deliver that as a service-based component with very well-defined APIs and multiple languages again. The developers now have to throw out choices in terms of we build it and how you deliver it as long as you adhere to some of the standards-based interfaces. Our advice to a lot of customers and developers is to really design it right with APIs in mind first, build associated services after you define the APIs, and deliver this in a microservices way so that it can be adopted and changed very quickly.

InfoWorld: Aside from Java EE, what else is Oracle doing in the microservices space?

Zavery: We have on our Oracle Cloud platform today full-blown support for microservices deployment. You can build a microservice you can define the APIs associated with the microservice through the API design, the whole lifecycle for that, and take those microservices and have a runtime for it. We have polyglot-based programming support underneath. You can run it on Node, you can run it on Ruby, you can run it as Python, PHP.

When you deploy this on a Docker container as a service and any other app container, which can run multiple languages, we've provided the full infrastructure for doing orchestration, devops for it as well as we provide you the capability to scale it out and have a highly available system as well and deploy it in multiple datacenters globally. The whole runtime, the devops and all that stuff for microservices is all provided in our cloud platform today.