Today I gave a mini-keynote within a keynote at Oracle Open World, on the topic of evolution toward enterprise clouds. It was fun to hear Richard Sarwal (formerly of VMware) articulate the vision and Oracle strategy for cloud.

It took a while, but Oracle is now a believer in cloud computing. Building on its Weblogic asset, Oracle has articulated a roadmap for a complete PaaS platform, which with Oracle Enterprise Manager, represents a very credible alternative for private Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering. My key interest is whether or not Oracle will do a better job of competing at the PaaS layer than (say) VMware with Springsource or Microsoft with Azure. Given its huge relevance to the enterprise applications stack, Oracle could very sincerely hobble VMware’s ambitions in this area. With Weblogic, Coherence, Tuxedo and the JRockit assets, as well as a complete hardware portfolio, Oracle has every bit as much credibility in the Java/PHP cloud world as Microsoft does with .NET applications. Weblogic powers some of the world’s largest SaaS offerings, among them Citrix Online, which is rapidly heading for the #2 slot in web collaboration. Moreover Oracle has offered its own applications as a service to customers for years, with Oracle On Demand.

My talk was about delivering Enterprise Class Elastic PaaS. I made the case that, impressive as the Oracle stack may be, it is missing two key attributes that are required for an enterprise PaaS platform, namely

  • elastic scalability and
  • secure application delivery.

I argued that these properties can be added to any Oracle implementation today, through the use of Citrix NetScaler.

One might think that making this case at Oracle World would be tricky, given that the Exalogic platform is subtitled “Elastic Cloud In a Box”. To its credit though, Exalogic comes in chunks that a real IT organization could consume (30 servers of two 6 core sockets), unlike the Azure Appliance, featuring 1000 servers. Well, fearing naught, this was the argument that I made:

In the first case, elasticity is key to the cost benefits of any true cloud. The Exalogic platform is a hardware platform that purports to offer cloud in a box. But if you need to purchase a box in order to support elastic growth of your applications, by definition you have purchased more capacity than you need. So elasticity within Exalogic is really rather ho-hum. Independent of Exalogic, delivering elasticity to the Oracle stack on standard x86 servers is much more interesting, and it was on this area that I focussed. NetScaler, with complete visibility of transactions at Layer 7 in the app stack, has an ability to dynamically scale the web/app tier of a PaaS delivered app by spawning new VMs and load-balancing the application load across them, to automatically scale up the capacity to deal with bursts in app traffic. Similarly, it can dial down the capacity used to serve traffic when it is not needed. Simple, granular, automatic delivery of a truly elastic capability for any web app, with a measurable SLA.

Secondly, any web based app delivered on the Oracle platform faces the need for secure web based access, certifiable compliance with regulatory requirements, and protection from application layer attacks. Securing and delivering applications on the web takes more than an execution platform for the app logic – it is inseparable from the need for an Application Delivery Controller that can deliver both elasticity and security. It is this gap that Citrix can fill with its NetScaler Application Delivery Controller.

NetScaler has been ensuring the availability, scalability and security of SaaS clouds for about 10 years. Of course, until a couple of years ago they weren’t called clouds. They were just called the really big datacenters for the really big web apps. But it was these exact datacenters from which the foundations of cloud computing emerged. NetScaler provides the following to these clouds:

  • Sophisticated, massively scalable, L4-7 traffic management: The latest generation of NetScaler appliances offer more than 50 Gbps of throughput. In these environments, this isn’t used for just load balancing web traffic. It’s also critical to the elasticity of the clouds themselves, as it is through NetScaler’s ability to redirect traffic both within and across datacenters that enables the clouds to shuffle and reallocate resources within impacting application uptime.
  • Content caching, compression and TCP optimizations that accelerate application performance: By precisely how much depends upon the application and the network, but it’s not uncommon or NetScaler delivered apps to run five times faster. In some cases, especially for database intensive apps where we can really use caching, acceleration can deliver tenfold or higher performance gains.
  • The same things we do that make apps run faster also offloads web, app and database servers in a PaaS platform or SaaS application. Typically NetScaler customers see server CPU utilization drop by 40-50%.
  • Sophisticated L4 to L7 Denial of Service attack mitigations protect PaaS clouds from malicious attacks and the outages that result
  • Market leading SSL encryption, including hardware acceleration of the latest requirement, 2048-bit keys, protects sensitive data within apps delivered from SaaS applications or on apps delivered on top of a PaaS framework in a private cloud
  • Integrated SSL VPN, supporting more than 10,000 concurrent users, provides secure access to applications running in the cloud, whether for employees or customers gaining access to an app over the web
  • NetScaler offers the market’s fastest Web Application Firewall – in excess of 12Gbps of throughput – which protects applications against attacks, and is critical for meeting compliance mandates. For example, PCI-DSS mandates using a web application firewall.

Finally, NetScaler is available as a virtual appliance, for free download. You can immediately incorporate it in any Oracle deployment, and we are working on standardized templates for management of NetScaler in an Oracle Enterprise Manager environment, to give you complete visibility and control.