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Oracle OKE takes on Azure, AWS with serverless Kubernetes

Oracle added serverless Kubernetes and a financially backed SLA to its OKE managed service, playing catch-up with AWS, Google and Azure and taking a swipe at them on pricing.

Oracle's cloud now matches the serverless Kubernetes features available from its major competitors, part of a new premium tier and a broader bundle of updates for its Container Engine for Kubernetes rolled out this week.

The features, including a serverless Kubernetes option, support for managed add-ons including the Oracle database and WebLogic Kubernetes operators, and pod-level security support, don't break new ground. The major cloud vendors -- Amazon EKS and AWS Fargate, Azure AKS and Azure Container Instances, and Google's GKE and Google Cloud Run -- have long had these options available. AWS Fargate launched in 2017.

Oracle plans to compete on price for those features, according to company officials.

"Our competitors have varying prices depending on which region you use," said Vijay Kumar, vice president of product marketing at Oracle. "For example, U.S. East is the cheapest region most of the competitors have, and U.S. West will be more expensive -- even more if you go to global regions."

By contrast Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) resources are priced the same regardless of region, Kumar said.

Oracle's serverless Kubernetes offering, which it calls Virtual Nodes, is listed at $0.015 per vCPU per hour. The basic Oracle Container Engine for Kubernetes (OKE) requires users to manage their own Kubernetes cluster nodes. With Virtual Nodes, Oracle will also manage that layer of infrastructure -- an offering analogous to AWS Fargate, Azure Container Instances and GKE Autopilot clusters.

The new OKE enhanced clusters come with a financially backed 99.95% service-level agreement (SLA) and optional supported add-ons. It's priced at $0.10 per cluster per hour, Oracle said, and appears analogous to SLA-backed managed Kubernetes control planes for Amazon EKS, Microsoft AKS and GKE Autopilot.

OKE users can still run basic Kubernetes clusters without the SLA or support for add-ons or the additional fee. They can also manage enhanced clusters and basic clusters together within the same account, Kumar said.

Chart comparing free tiers between Oracle Cloud, AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.
Comparing free tiers between Oracle Cloud and the top 3 cloud vendors is one of many sets of calculations users must make to evaluate potential cost savings.

Cloud pricing comparisons quickly get hazy

All three major OCI competitors also charge $0.10 per cluster per hour to manage the Kubernetes control plane with an SLA. Here, OKE's new enhanced cluster price is comparable, though Oracle did not disclose SLA terms as of press time.

OKE virtual nodes' per-vCPU charge comes in below public list pricing in US-East for x86/Linux systems in Fargate ($0.04048) and Azure Container Instances ($0.04050).

However, pinning down an exact comparison between the total costs of these services isn't that simple. AWS, Azure and Google pricing pages break down the associated cloud resource costs such as memory, ephemeral storage and limited-duration Windows OS licensing charges, among others. These also vary by region, operating system and processor type. Additional infrastructure costs factor in to the overall cost equation for OKE users too, without the regional price variation.

Rob Strechay, founder, Smuget ConsultingRob Strechay

In addition to free resource tiers, all vendors also offer different resource prices for spot VM instances and reserved instances, further muddying the cost comparison waters.

"OCI is competing on price and SLAs that are the same as the other clouds and still complex and practically meaningless," said Rob Strechay, founder at Smuget Consulting. "Pricing at all major clouds is way too hard to figure out up front, with organizations not knowing what resources the applications they are building will use."

OKE competition remains powerful

OKE has thousands of users to date, Kumar said. Overall, however, Oracle Cloud remains an underdog: AWS customers number in the millions, while Oracle overall has 430,000 customers, accounting for $42 billion in revenue for fiscal 2022. Oracle Cloud services and license support revenues were $30.2 billion. Cloud license and on-premise license revenues were $5.9 billion. AWS reported $80 billion in revenue for 2022.

But Oracle has a long track record as a software vendor specializing in mission-critical applications, Strechay said, which means these updates could make OKE more enticing for its existing customer base.

"For companies still using an Oracle database as the back-end data repository, it makes sense that they might need to modernize the front-end application," he said.

Pricing at all major clouds is way too hard to figure out up front, with organizations not knowing what resources the applications they are building will use.
Rob StrechayFounder, Smuget Consulting

Oracle claims OKE imposes less potential vendor lock-in than its major competitors because it's based on a standard upstream Kubernetes distribution, to which Oracle has contributed heavily, along with upstream Kubernetes operators.

Oracle also touts OKE's ease of use. But users have to pay for enhanced clusters to get a supported dashboard alongside other managed add-ons such as database operators, CoreDNS and Kube-proxy, Strechay noted.

"It would seem that if they were truly going to make ease of management a hallmark of [OKE], the dashboard would be included," Strechay said. "Having a managed Kubernetes service is table stakes. And they are still behind in the cloud."

Beth Pariseau, senior news writer at TechTarget, is an award-winning veteran of IT journalism. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @PariseauTT.

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