Oracle boxes up the cloud

WHEN OpenWorld 2010 kicked off, host Oracle Corp was sailing through some “bad weather.” Java application developers were anxious over what would become of the open-source programming language now that Sun Microsystems is controlled by the database giant.

James Gosling, the father of Java even called on software developers to wear T-shirts with “Java, just free it” on the front, to remind Oracle boss Larry Ellison of his pledge to set Java free at the JavaOne developer conference that ran concurrently with OpenWorld in San Francisco this year.

Then there was the bruhaha that erupted when Ellison hired his buddy Mark Hurd who had been recently forced out of his job as chief executive of the Hewlett-Packard Co over some expense accounting. Ellison made Hurd co-president and HP was worrying that its confidential business data would be compromised.

So it was under such dark clouds that Oracle unveiled its plans for cloud computing — where applications and data typically reside on the Internet instead of on an organisation’s PCs and servers. Cloud-computing infrastructures consist of services delivered through common datacentres and built on servers.

There are cloud-based services, such as Amazon EC2, which enables its users to rent virtual computers on which to run their own software applications. There’s also, a software-as-a-service company that offers business software on a subscription basis via the Web.

“But we think individual customers will build their own private clouds behind their firewalls, and we call those clouds also,” said Ellison in his keynote speech at OpenWorld.

“Businesses want virtualised, elastic compute platforms behind their firewall for the use of that company and that company alone. It’s still a cloud. It’s not a public cloud; it’s a private cloud.

“Besides its location in (relation to) the firewall, everything else is identical between the public cloud and the private cloud,” he said.

And Oracle wants to make it easy for businesses and other organisations to get into cloud computing, and is offering what it describes as the-cloud-in-a-box. The “box” in its Exalogic Elastic Cloud solution is a server stack that reportedly weighs 2,400lbs and needs 15 kilowatts of power to run.

With Exalogic, it announced, customers get hardware and software engineered to work together.

A single Exalogic box has 30 servers, 40Gbps (Gigabits per second) high-speed Infiniband network, storage capabilities, virtual machines and all the middleware needed to develop and run applications, Ellison explained.

Each of the servers are equipped with two six-core processors and coupled with the high-speed network, is an efficient powerhouse for driving Online Transaction Processing (OLTP).

With all these built into Exalogic, Ellison claimed, the device is capable of handling more than a million HTTP requests at the speed of two million requests a second.

“In OLTP setups, it is often not the issue of bandwidth but latency,” he said. “In other words, how long it takes to send a short message.”

“With Exalogic, we can do all of Facebook’s HTTP requests with two stacks and all of China Rail ticketing with one,” Ellison added.

The Exalogic has up to 40 terrabytes of storage, in high-speed hard disks with a read/write cache.

“It is also a fully redundant device and you cannot lose any data even if the power goes down,” Ellison said.

Different applications are allocated their own environment and the virtual machines isolate one application from another.

“Each server is physically separate, so if one fails the other 29 will keep running,” he said.

One for all

Exalogic’s ace is its coherence software that synchonises the separate memories in the 30 servers to create the illusion that it is one unified memory system.

This also allows it to detect failures and balance the workload across the 30 servers. If one server should fail, the data on it gets moved to another server.

Exalogic runs on Oracle VM, a server virtualisation software that supports both Oracle and non-Oracle applications.

Ellison highlighted the Exalogic operating environment, specifically the virtual machines and the operating systems that run on Exalogic, because both Linux and Solaris run as guests on top of Oracle VM.

“One virtual machine, two guest operating systems so it comes with both operating systems and you decide which one, and you can run a mixture.

“You can have some nodes running Solaris, some nodes running Linux. In both cases, it’s elastic. It’s all virtualised ... you can dynamically add and remove virtual machines from the VM pools. And because it’s virtualised you have fault isolation.

“And by the way, you’ll see this goes all the way down to the virtual network level,” he said.

Customers will enjoy easy maintenance and patching of the Exalogic solution. They will start with a standard configuration and a “one-file-patches-all” process to simplify ­software upgrades and system patches. “Patching in virtual environments is time consuming, complicated, expensive and error prone. We’ve dramatically simplified this task,” said Ellison.

He said that having a standard configuration is beneficial, especially when it comes to debugging and patching.

“If all our customers run the same configuration and one finds a bug, Oracle can identify the buggy part,” he said. So rather than waiting for another customer to rediscover the same bug, Oracle proactively releases a patch to its other customers, dramatically reducing the amount of future bug discoveries.

“Having a standard configuration will also allow us to do a better job at developing and testing, before delivering the technology to our customers,” Ellison added.

As the five-day OpenWorld ran its course, Oracle’s troubles cleared up. There was no angry mob of Java developers; they had learned of Oracle’s three-year roadmap for Java. And a deal struck with Hewlett-Packard had put the Hurd hullabaloo to rest.

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