Friday, January 29, 2010

What is Cloud Computing? A Brief Answer

At the Oracle-Sun merger coming-out party, Larry Ellison asked “what is cloud computing?” suggesting it is the same old stuff of hardware, software and the Internet. Let me try to answer this question from various perspectives.

Cloud computing is an umbrella term that describes:
• Provisioning of compute services;
• Billing of the compute services

Provisioning of Compute Services:
Compute services are provisioned from a pool of hardware/networking/power. In other words you don’t buy or lease individual hardware and accoutrements; you simply use what you need from a pool of such resources.

The above describes the hardware layer; the software layer can also be shared or sandboxed. For example, Google offers a shared software layer, they provide the file system, key-value store, operating system, etc. Each of these are designed for multi-tenancy and all users run on this same shared software layer. Amazon provides a sandboxed approach. You get your own sandbox with your choice of software (including their options like SimpleDB and RDS, or your own like loading MySQL).

Billing of Computer Services:
There are two primary ways to pay for cloud computing: utility and subscription. Utility means you only pay for what you use. Subscription means you pay a recurring amount for the right to use something. Amazon provides examples of both. You can pay a subscription fee for an instance of a computer, regardless of how much you utilize it. But when paying for storage, you pay for usage only in a utility model. Private clouds might use chargeback billing, charging the departments that use their services according to utility or subscription models.

Cloud computing is an umbrella term that addresses the provisioning—ideally on demand—of compute resources, where the hardware layer supports multi-tenancy and the software layer can be shared or sandboxed. Cloud computing is usually billed, or charged back, according to a pay-as-you go or utility model, a subscription model, or a hybrid of the two.

Definition by Perspective (Consumer):

Cloud consumer: I only pay for what I need at the time in small increments (e.g. hourly or GB transferred) and many annoying things like automated back-ups are automatically handled for me. I have no fixed costs (hardware, software, switches), just variable costs.

Definition by Contrast:
Traditional (dare I say legacy) computing relies on dedicated resources. You might share the networking, but you have a dedicated computer and probably dedicated storage, not to mention dedicated software. Your average utilization of the system might be 10%, with the excess capacity waiting for spikes in usage or allocated for future growth. In other words, you are paying 10X more than you should.

If you have a better definition of cloud computing please provide it in the comments.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Oracle, MySQL, the EU and Wayne Gretzky

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be” -- Wayne Gretzky

Technically speaking the EU did a good job. They recognized that, in its current state, there is little market overlap between MySQL and Oracle products. Sure, there was some overlap and some Oracle customers would use the competitive threat of MySQL to extract lower pricing from Oracle. But looking at what the current installed bases are doing, they are not too competitive. And as the EU points out, Postgres and Ingres provide open source alternatives to Oracle’s high-end products.

Oracle, on the other hand did a great job. They saw where the puck was heading—namely that MySQL had their sights set on the Enterprise market—and Oracle intercepted the pass.

The most telling story was what happened at the MySQL partners meeting at the 2009 MySQL conference in April. Oracle had just announced that they were acquiring Sun/MySQL. The partner meeting was kicked off by a presentation on MySQL’s future where every other word was scalable or enterprise. They clearly had their sights set on the enterprise market. Obviously, this presentation was created before the acquisition announcement.

Then came the QA period. Of course, the first question was “What does this acquisition mean to MySQL?” The answer went on about how Oracle was a scalable enterprise database and MySQL is really focused on smaller web applications. It was a very telling 180-degree strategic pivot.

Was this a good thing, a bad thing…that question is now moot. It is what it is. The EU did a good job—based upon the current status—while Oracle did a great job of seeing the future direction.

Does Drizzle now skate to where the puck is going in the cloud? Does MariaDB make a run at the Enterprise by itself? Does MySQL drive forward into the enterprise market with Oracle’s support, or in spite of Oracle? Do Postgres and Ingres get a lift from this, as the only viable open source enterprise databases? Will we see the rise of other competitive threats in the enterprise database market? I’m happy to hear your comments, but ultimately time will tell.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Your Opinion Please: Did Oracle Make Concessions to the EU?

Back when the EU started the investigation of the Oracle-Sun deal, I made a bet. The bet hinged on whether Oracle would make concessions to get the EU’s approval. Please review the arguments, pro and con, and help us settle the bet.

Issue #1: The 10-Point Commitment to Customers Developers & Users of MySQL:
PRO CONCESSIONS: After meeting with the EU, Oracle issues this list of 10 concessions. Oracle prefaces the 10 points with the line: “In order further to reassure the Commission, Oracle hereby publicly commits to the following:” It then goes on to make certain commitments including #2 the non-assertion policy where is says “Oracle will change Sun’s current policy” and commit not to assert their copyright against storage engine vendors for 5 years. And continues to say: “Oracle shall reproduce this commitment in contractual commitments to storage vendors who at present have a commercial license with Sun.” Why would ANY company give up their legal rights without pressure. Clearly they made a concession. The press release includes other commitments and then closes with “The geographic scope of these commitments shall be worldwide and these commitments shall continue until the fifth anniversary of the closing of the transaction.”

CON CONCESSIONS: This is a press release and nothing more. There is no binding legal agreement. At the bottom of this simple press release it says: “When used in this press release, the words “shall,” “plans,” “commits” and “will” and other similar expressions and any other statements that are not historical facts are intended to identify those assertions as forward-looking statements. Any such statement is subject to a number of potential risks and uncertainties…”

Issue #2: Oracle’s Press Release About EU Approval
CON CONCESSIONS: It is very clear in the title “European Commission Unconditionally Approves Oracle’s Acquisition of Sun” It is unconditional, case closed, no conditions.

PRO CONCESSIONS: Of course Oracle will say unconditional. This is tantamount to person #1 suing person #2 for $10M. Instead of taking it to court, they settle where neither person admits or denies guilt, but person #2 pays person #1 $5M. Just because it settled out of court, and they “agree” that nobody is guilty, it is pretty clear that if there was no guilt, person #2 wouldn’t have paid $5M. This face-saving way that Oracle presents the approval to the world is meaningless.

Issue #3: The EU’s Press Release About Approval of the Deal
PRO CONCESSIONS: “The Commission also took into account Oracle's public announcement of 14 December 2009 of a series of pledges to customers, users and developers of MySQL concerning issues such as the continued release of future versions of MySQL under the GPL (General Public License) open source license. Oracle has already taken action to implement some of its pledges by making binding offers to third parties who currently have a licensing contract for MySQL with Sun to amend contracts.” The EU took into account “pledges” by Oracle and the fact that Oracle is already changing binding agreements. These steps were clearly a concession and the binding legal agreements that have been fixed are legal and binding proof of these concessions.

CON CONCESSIONS: Oracle did NOT enter into any binding agreement with the EU, therefore they made no concessions to get the deal done. Any flimsy pledges in a press release are not enforceable and therefore, no concessions were made. The fact that they changed individual agreements does not mean that they made a concession to the EU at all.

We have a lunch bet riding on the argument. Did Oracle make concessions under pressure from the EU in order to close the deal to acquire Sun? Please vote in the comments section, leading with YES (Oracle made concessions) or NO (Oracle did not make concessions). Feel free to elaborate on why ;-).

Please vote on the facts, not on your opinion about whether it was sufficient or not ;-)

Thank you for helping us settle this bet.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

HP Needs a Linux OLTP Database...FAST

Oracle, after dating HP, Dell, Netapp and EMC has found its mate in Sun. Oracle is now becoming a systems company, and unceremoniously dumping these former paramours. These leaves the spurned lovers to find alternate accommodations, especially in the area of the database.

As I have stated previously on this blog, the clear partner of choice on the Windows front is Microsoft. This is demonstrated by today’s partner announcement around MS SQL Server for OLTP. But who is their partner in the Linux segment?

The following are contenders:
* Postgres (HP rolls their own)
* EnterpriseDB (pre-rolled Postgres)
* Ingres or Sybase—Oracle has felled them both in the past, but they are hoping for new life with a big sugar daddy like HP.
* ScaleDB, If HP is going after the cloud and the MySQL market

I don’t see them going for a NoSQL solution because NoSQL = NoEnterprise, making it a non-starter for HP. One way or the other, HP needs a solution for OLTP on Linux and they are on the clock.

For OLAP, HP has NeoView. If they felt the need, there are a number of OLAP solutions out there such a Greenplum, Netizza, Asterdata, Paraccel, Ingres/Vectorwise and others. That said, I think HP feels that they are holding a good hand on in the OLAP space, but Linux-based OLTP just became a gaping hole in their product suite. Today's partnership with Microsoft confirms this problem, but only solves the Windows half not the Linux half.

Monday, January 4, 2010

VMWare, Zimbra and the Virtualized Software Stack

VMWare appears to be positioning itself to provide the virtualized or cloud-based alternative to Oracle, Microsoft and IBM. This is a very interesting approach, and it will be interesting to see it play out over time. With Oracle and IBM taking a more systems-centric approach, meaning they are both providing the storage, computing and software stacks in the form of a system, this leaves Oracle’s traditional hardware partners out in the cold (HP, Dell, EMC, Netapp, etc.) along with budding potential partner Cisco. VMWare may envision themselves providing the Linux-based alternative to Microsoft in this game of strategic positioning. VMWare’s strategic advantage is that their entire stack is virtualization- and cloud-friendly. That would make sense given Maritz's Microsoft experience.

This diagram compares the various stacks from VMWare's perspective (e.g. they are all on top of VMWare instead of their own respective virtualization offerings). It compares Microsoft (orange), Oracle (red), VMWare (green) and IBM (wait or

If that is the case, there are some open holes and some questions.
1. Does VMWare need their own flavor of Linux (a la Novell’s Suse)?

2. What database does VMWare include? There are open source alternatives such as MySQL, Postgres and the recently wounded Ingres. The problem is that these all employ a shared-nothing architecture which doesn’t fit the virtualization model. They could look at some of the NoSQL alternatives, but NoSQL = NoEnterprise and the enterprise is where VMWare makes their money. (shameless plug) They could look at using ScaleDB’s shared-disk storage engine for MySQL, which is virtualization friendly.

3. Does VMWare go after higher-level applications like Zoho, SugarCRM, etc.?

4. Does VMWare partner with SAP to provide the applications layer and would that work in a virtualized stack? Certainly the proximity of their Menlo Park campi is convenient.

The opportunity for VMWare to partner with HP, Dell, Cisco, and obviously EMC but probably not Netapp, seems very compelling. Combine this with a built-in cloud play for these potential partners and it makes a lot of sense. Oracle is enamored with Sun and their systems strategy. They are walking away from HP and Dell. It would be interesting to see VMWare walk into those companies with the grand partnering strategy and a complete cloud stack ready to go. It would then increase the stakes for Oracle’s systems play, because it would cut-off their fallback position.

It is always interesting to watch the industry giants try to out flank each other.