Oracle VP plugs the power of the grid

Oracle Corp. unveiled its newly revamped product line based around the "utility" or grid computing model earlier this month at OracleWorld, including a new version of its application server software, Application Server 10g. The Redwood Shores, California, company has now taken its grid computing show on the road to customers and the press in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.

IDG News Service sat down with Charles Rozwat, Oracle executive vice president for server technologies, during his stopover in London on Wednesday.

IDGNS: How can IT managers convince their CFOs (chief financial officers) that they should move to grid computing?

Charles Rozwat: There's a couple of things. The cost factor and the 'prove to me this really works' factor. The cost I think is easy to show: it's in the hardware, maintenance and the number of people that you need to administer the system, so there are very clear metrics to show the cost savings.

You can buy a couple of Intel (Corp.) servers that are now incredibly powerful, multiple gigahertz machines, and storage that has massive capacities for a very low cost, and you can get started with a partner application, something like expense reporting as part of financials.

You can actually do that as a low-cost entry and then, because of clusters and the technology of the grid, you can scale and just keep adding on. That's an easy way to get to that 'prove it to me' point, for literally a few thousand dollars, and then move quickly to 'ok, let's start moving everything up.'

IDGNS: What are the costs for an organization that doesn't already have the RAC (real application cluster) setup needed to use the grid model?

CR: You have to start somewhere. If you look at annual IT budgets, a lot of money is spent on hardware maintenance for existing systems and the older the hardware system, the more expensive the maintenance. A 10g investment takes those costs off the books.

One of the things that really makes grid computing popular right now is that a lot of costs come out across hardware components and storage. Storage prices have come down, and so network attached storage is a dramatically lower-cost alternative to the direct-attached storage that a lot of people have today.

IDGNS: How does an IT manager get around a company mindset of 'one application for one server?'

CR: It's hard for (IT departments) to save their company money but this smaller system really empowers them. With 10g there's a lot of things that we're doing to let an IT manager act more like a hosting manager for their entire company.

IT managers also have more control over what's going on. With grid control you have ways of monitoring what's happening on an application level with different levels of service. So if you do a service level agreement between (an) IT and a business department, you can guarantee that you're going to have 24/7 (24 hours a day, seven days a week) availability for this application, that you're going to have five-second response time or less for every screen and you're going to have a certain level of security.

IDGNS: IBM Corp. has responded to Oracle's grid computing challenge by saying that its on-demand model allows organizations to change business processes while using existing IT infrastructure, with a breadth of capabilities that Oracle doesn't have.

CR: IBM has created an environment with products that basically aren't integrated. So if you buy WebSphere there are about 20 totally unintegrated products as part of it. WebSphere and DB2 (Database) had very little integration, so anything that you actually do with IBM software requires people to come on-site to do the integration. With 10g, Oracle has eliminated the need to bring a lot of expensive consultants on-site to build applications; we've done it in our engineering group.

Additionally, if you look at the current version of DB2 and of WebSphere, they really don't have any of the features that we're talking about with true grid computing. They don't have clustering, they don't have fail-over availability features and they don't have the grid management capabilities that we're introducing with 10g. Those are the features that they talk about in their research labs but that they don't really have in their products.

IDGNS: How does Oracle's grid strategy work for outsourcing?

CR: The grid concept is also based on the idea that a company can farm various things out. Oracle is offering managing services that a company can scale up or scale back. In terms of outsourcing, we think eventually that's the way the market is going to go.

IDGNS: How secure is grid computing?

CR: We have security features built in. The main feature is centralized security; one place where you manage user identity and user roles. Often a person has ten different passwords for ten applications. With this, a user only has to be authenticated once and then they don't have to log in again to use a different application. You're not managing your rights to all of the different applications.

The idea is to have one secure identity system and then to protect the heck out of that.

IDGNS: How important is simplicity?

CR: With 10g, we're trying to simplify the software in a couple of ways. The integrated 10g package includes installation and configuration, and the components are becoming more self-managing. A new feature is our automatic storage management, which simplifies the task of putting data on disk. There is also the cloning feature, where you can take a snapshot of a system you've tuned up and do a simple clone function to copy across to the other systems as you need it, allowing you to provision software across all the servers.

IDGNS: What is the pricing for 10g?

CR: The pricing for the application server software will be released in October. All of the systems will be out by the end of the year and we'll be announcing pricing for everything before we begin shipping. It will be a worldwide launch.

IDGNS: It is my understanding that some within Oracle believe the concept of grid computing will be an easier sell in Europe. Why is that?

CR: Perhaps because there is a history here of large grid computing systems in academic environments. But I don't see a dramatic difference between the U.S., EMEA and Asia. I think the difference is more likely to be between industries. For example, the financial sector is pretty aggressive and they've been doing a lot of work already with blade servers, so we expect them to be very receptive to what we have to offer.

IDGNS: Is Oracle concerned that (Unix-developer) The SCO Group Inc.'s suit against IBM, and its intention to charge licensing fees to companies using Linux, might dampen interest in 10g?

CR: Well, to begin with, we run everywhere. We run on Windows, on Linux and in some cases we still run on VMS (Virtual Memory System). But about SCO specifically, though there is a lot of concern, I haven't seen customers stop using Linux or even slow down production based on this. I think it would help everybody if some sort of financial settlement is reached but I don't know when or what that would be.

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