If it wasn’t already evident that enterprise computing is moving to the cloud, then this week’s surprise alliance between arch-rivals Oracle and Microsoft has made it crystal-clear. Having a common foe makes for some unlikely friendships and the threat must have seemed especially desperate to have forged this particular bond.
Don’t be fooled, though. These goliaths’ embrace of the cloud is heavily qualified. They see their customers beginning to move workloads to the cloud. Their strategy is to make sure those enterprises do it their way.
Don’t leave me now
What Oracle and Microsoft fear most — along with every other established IT vendor — is that enterprises will leave them behind as they migrate to the cloud. They know that each major shift in computing sees some vendors fade away — in previous generational shifts, they’ve been the ones inflicting that fate on others. They do not want to become the victims this time around.
Yesterday’s announcement, therefore, is all about maintaining control as enterprise workloads move cloudwards. Oracle knows that its own managed private cloud offering only suits a restricted, loyal core of the market; its broader strategy is to keep as many workloads as possible on its own database platform. Microsoft knows that its database doesn’t have the high-end scale of Oracle’s; its strategy is to keep enterprises loyal to its applications and infrastructure platforms.
For both vendors, embracing each other’s strengths helps advance their core objective of keeping enterprises locked in to choices made many years ago, in the depths of the client-server era. Their main reason for keeping customers off Amazon Web Services and other pureplay cloud players such as Google, GoGrid and Rackspace isn’t envy of their rapid growth. It’s to keep those enterprises from being tempted into more radical transformations in their platform loyalties.
For sure, Microsoft has the additional motive of building up its Azure public cloud as a rival to AWS and the rest. According to Microsoft, Azure is now a billion-dollar business in its own right, with a quarter-million customers including half the Fortune 500.
Take note, however, that Microsoft has consistently declined to say how much of that business is piggybacking on existing contracts and subscriptions for services that it has ported to Azure. Note also that the billion-dollar figure includes an unquantified amount attributed to “software provided to partners to create related Windows cloud services.” Thus, for example, the licenses sold to partners for the Azure-hosted Microsoft Dynamics packages announced last week would be included in the total.
Long story short, Microsoft is still boosting Azure until it builds out sufficient scale, and being able to run Oracle workloads is further grist to the mill.
The wrong workloads
All of this is a distraction from the key point. So long as Oracle, Microsoft and the other established vendors keep the discussion focused on moving computing workloads to the cloud, then they’ve won the real war. Porting to AWS, Azure or Oracle Cloud simply relocates the software platform to a new home, but it’s still the same client-server stack. All that’s changed is the underlying infrastructure.
As a non-disruptive, reversible change of location, this suits many enterprises. It brings the advantages of running on an elastic, highly connected and cost-efficient cloud infrastructure. The only major change is a new regime for security and governance that involves Internet access to those resources along with oversight of a third-party infrastructure provider. Everything else — including the software licensing — is business as usual. And (in theory, at least) there’s always the option of bringing the entire stack back in-house onto a private cloud infrastructure whenever this becomes preferable.
But what if enterprises start thinking in terms of moving business workloads to the cloud instead of merely considering where to locate their computing workloads? Of course many are, but they’re not putting it in these terms. They’re turning to cloud-native application providers in order to gain functionality they can’t easily implement with their existing client-server application stacks. These multi-tenant application stacks are an all-or-nothing cloud option; there’s no easy route back on-premise because the vendors don’t offer a client-server equivalent. Equally, they’re not held back by the compromises inherent in running conventional client-server stacks in the cloud.
Cloud-native architectures give the freedom to start thinking along very different lines. At last week’s Structure conference, one panel discussion focused on the concept of ‘multi-cloud’, a hybrid cloud environment in which the computing workload calls on resources spread across a heterogenous mix of cloud platforms. Participant Ben Kepes elaborates:
“An organization embracing a multi-cloud strategy will likely have infrastructure resources spanning multiple vendors, potentially public and private, and likely to be across a variety of operating stacks. In the multi-cloud scenario it’s not a shock to see organizations using AWS, some public OpenStack and a private cloud build on one of the stack products.”
He cites PayPal and Box as companies currently using this approach, and suggests Netflix as another potential user. This type of flexibility is not available to those running vertically-integrated client-server stacks, which can only move between clouds as a single workload and with much advance planning. But it clearly has the potential to deliver more choice and control than less flexible architectures.
I know I’ll have more to say on this later in the week after the expected announcement of Oracle 12c and its promised multi-tenant functionality. But for now my interpretation of this week’s announcements is that they’re focused on encouraging enterprises to keep their cloud workloads on the familiar software platforms of the client-server era. That may suit many enterprises for now. But it’s not where the cloud is heading in the future.
Disclosure: At the time of writing, Oracle is a diginomica premium partner and Box is a diginomica partner
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