This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Oracle OpenWorld 2019 coverage: Oracle seeks loftier cloud perch

Early Oracle Cloud Infrastructure customers take its measure

Oracle Cloud Infrastructure is seeing early adoption from a diverse array of customers, although OCI's market share remains modest compared to AWS, Microsoft and Google.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle may lag far behind AWS, Microsoft and Google in the IaaS market, but a diverse set of customers use Oracle Cloud Infrastructure today. The question going forward is how much Oracle can grow that pool while continuing to meet customer needs.

Gallaudet University, a higher ed institution in Washington, D.C., that caters to deaf and hard-of-hearing students, is moving its PeopleSoft applications to OCI, said CIO Earl Parks, in an interview at the OpenWorld conference here this week.

PeopleSoft and its Campus application modules are a significant component of Gallaudet's IT infrastructure, spanning processes from finance to HR, as well as various student-facing functions, such as recruiting.

Gallaudet had run PeopleSoft on premises with the help of some outside consultants, whose cost represented a significant percentage of the IT budget, Parks said.

For Parks, moving to OCI has two major benefits. One is reliability. He recalled a Saturday morning in 2014 when a hardware failure in Gallaudet's data center created a catastrophe.

"I got a phone call from the university letting me know that everything is offline," said Parks, who spoke to TechTarget in sign language through the help of interpreters.

Once the school made progress on the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure migration, which began in May, Parks' mood changed.

"I could finally sleep," he said. "I didn't have to worry about things going down anymore."

Gallaudet has its financials live on OCI now, with HR set to do the same imminently. Those modules were a simple lift-and-shift, but others required an upgrade to the underlying software first, he said.

Companies today are really looking at the ability to move around to stay competitive and Oracle's had to accept that.
Diego NettoCo-founder and CTO, Booster Fuels

Another benefit has been much faster testing and patches compared to the on-premises environment, where resource constraints caused bottlenecks and operational headaches.

Gallaudet's PeopleSoft system was highly customized over the years, but the school is shedding that technical debt, Parks said. "We wanted to drop all customizations and then decide what we really need to do in the future."

Parks' team is also able, for the first time, to present financial auditors with an extensive disaster recovery (DR) scenario. Previously, the school only offered DR based on tape backup, Parks said.

Gallaudet still has a data center for various IT assets and expects to maintain one for the next 10 to 15 years, but it will look for opportunities to adopt cloud services whenever it makes sense, he said.

Oracle has lined up a phalanx of services that run on top of OCI. Gallaudet is keen to adopt some of them, particularly Oracle's chatbot technology, according to Parks. The school would like to work with Oracle on helping chatbots understand sign language through machine vision, given how important that mode of communication is for its staff and faculty, Parks said. "It's tough to automate sign language."

Gallaudet has signed a three-year deal for Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. The overall project cost is estimated at $2.7 million, with about half of that associated with the lift-and-shift and upgrade, Parks said. When the project is complete, the school expects to save between $50,000 and $75,000 annually compared to the cost of running PeopleSoft on premises and will also gain three full-time employees as part of the process, he added.

OCI is Oracle's second IaaS try

Early in the decade, Oracle launched its first take on IaaS and based it in part on OpenStack. That service never gained much market traction, and Oracle subsequently made heavy investments in people and technology to create OCI, which introduced much advancement at the storage, networking, compute and tool layers.

Oracle no longer actively sells what it calls OCI Classic and has put in place a series of migration programs to help customers move workloads onto Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, said Clay Magouyrk, senior vice president of software development for OCI.

OCI's key services include Oracle's Autonomous Database, which helps to eliminate manual patches and updates. Oracle extended the theme at OpenWorld, announcing Oracle Autonomous Linux, which powers OCI. The company has also begun to fold in advanced capabilities for its array of cloud business applications, such as machine learning and chatbots, all under the OCI banner.

Oracle's top competitor in IaaS, AWS, continuously pumps out new capabilities, to the point of overwhelming some customers. Don't expect the same approach from Oracle, according to Magouyrk.

"I don't see having more capabilities as a bad thing," he said. "We have a very high bar and programs that enforce those things. I see it much more as, how do you build a unified user experience? If you do that well, customers love those updates."

Oracle a cloud laggard, but not too late

While Oracle is well behind AWS, Microsoft and Google in the public IaaS market, there remains an opportunity for the company, said Hyoun Park, CEO and founder of analyst firm Amalgam Insights.

"Oracle is getting into the game at the last possible moment, but the cloud still only makes up about 10% of all IT infrastructure, so there's still a chance to get in," Park said. Oracle's recent deals with Microsoft and VMware, however, suggest that Oracle realizes it needs help, he added.

In any case, Oracle's approach to OCI has resonated with at least some traditional large enterprises that want to move workloads to the cloud. OCI customers who presented at OpenWorld included Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, a $37 billion financial services firm based in New York; and Reliance Jio, a $1.7 billion telco headquartered in Mumbai, India.

On the other end of the spectrum, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure must look attractive to individual developers and startups. To this end, Oracle launched a free OCI usage tier which includes "always free" services for Autonomous Database. In contrast, other cloud providers typically set time limits on free services before charges kick in.

One startup that has bought into OCI is Booster Fuels, a San Mateo, Calif., company that provides same-day gasoline delivery services to fleet operators, corporate campuses and individuals.

Booster developed a mobile application that routes its tanker trucks in response to customer demands while optimizing operations to minimize carbon outputs, said Co-Founder and CTO Diego Netto, in an interview at OpenWorld.

The company's trucks might cost more than $100,000 apiece, but that is much less than the multimillion dollar cost of building an actual gas station, he added. "We have a gas station; it's just on wheels," Netto said.

Booster has found success marketing to corporations that want to round out their employee perks, particularly any benefits related to transportation.

"There are only so many [company-sponsored] yoga classes you can take in a month," Netto said. Meanwhile, the lack of real estate in Booster's business model frees up capital and gives it financial breathing room to run its service.

Booster has worked with all major cloud providers over the past several years, but it recently signed a one-year deal for OCI and has moved its Kubernetes-based application environment onto the service. The company's technological acumen is key to survival.

"Delivering gas to a moving target -- your car -- is difficult," Netto said. "It doesn't fit into any off-the-shelf software out there. We had to build our own."

Initially, Booster used Docker containers but later decided to invest the time to learn Kubernetes, which has emerged as the industry standard for container-based application workloads.

"By leveraging modern open source software and these managed commodities at scale, we've been able to keep a very lean team," Netto said. Booster only has one DevOps engineer and wants to stay at that staffing level for now, he added.

Oracle has provided Booster with a very high level of support, to the point where OCI staffers participate in Slack conversations with the company's DevOps engineer, Netto said.

This white-glove treatment is less surprising when you consider Oracle's desire to generate buzz around OCI with startups such as Booster. Netto is happy for now and said Booster has options on the table thanks to its reliance on Kubernetes. It purposely signed only a one-year deal for OCI services to remain flexible for the future.

"We can stand up a new cluster and point our DNS provider at a new endpoint in a matter of hours from end to end," he said. "Companies today are really looking at the ability to move around to stay competitive, and Oracle's had to accept that."

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