Letting go

When we can’t have it all–and we never can–what’s worth keeping, and what worth letting go? That’s a tough question that Oracle, and all cloud customers, face in different respects this week.

Oracle’s announcement this week of Oracle Application Development Framework [ADF] Essentials is a surprise I expected never to hear, for instance. Since its original incorporation thirty-five years ago, the company has always had a reputation for aggressive pricing and protection of its intellectual property. To adopt a “freemium” model model now for a product as important as this Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE, formerly J2EE) framework, and to base its own ADF Essentials on the open-source GlassFish application server, is a monumental shift.

I think it’s a healthy one. As Michael Vizard points out this week, it’s another step in a larger progression for Oracle. Just a month ago, the company enhanced its GoldenGate product to support multiple relational database systems (RDBMSs), including competitors’. The old Oracle always pushed comprehensive, exclusive, highly-integrated sales, with as much licensing as possible flowing to Oracle itself. Now, the company is showing more willingness to incorporate building blocks from outside its own territory. If the pies of Oracle’s customers are bigger, maybe even shrinking portions will ultimately profit Oracle.

Don’t confuse Oracle with a charity, of course. These shifts are relatively subtle, and their technical basis appears to be solid and even conservative. While GlassFish is open-source, for example, its effective governance as part of the Java ecosystem rests largely in the hands of Oracle affiliates. Ultimately, these shifts should promote better engineering, as more and more of our artifacts become based on standards that are freely available for examination and experimentation, or at least multiply-sourced.

Finding the right balance

Bernd Harzog also wrote this week about trade-offs in pointing out that our cloud purchases have to juggle “fast, cheap, or good”, and can’t have all three simultaneously. The Real User Monitoring Blog covered parts of the same territory this summer in reviewing the Amazon “derecho” outage at the end of June 2012. Amazon Web Service (AWS) is focused on driving down prices in the cloud: it’s not highlighting SLAs (service-level agreements) at all. Harzog is absolutely right to tabulate the realistic limits to what cloud customers can expect from different providers and technologic stacks.

Harzog favors “one throat to choke” more than I do. He accurately describes the technical constraints AWS, Azure, OpenStack, KVM, and competitors exhibit. He then draws conclusions about vendor service in terms of “control”.

My own emphasis is that we only get the agility and predictability in price we want when we give up parts of the control we’d other like. Information technology (IT) relies on trust and co-operation throughout our stacks. Just as a conventional business can only grow when its founder is able to delegate functions like bookkeeping, janitorial upkeep, retail sales, and so on, we in IT only make the most of the Cloud as we’re able to build on pieces outside our control. As with bookkeeping and other responsibilities, though, we need to be realistic about the hazards of reliance on those pieces, and put auditing systems in place to ensure the results. When a start-up founder requires his own approval of all purchases, he’s created an overload for himself; when he ignores accounting, he’s inviting embezzlement. Somewhere in the middle, there’s a healthy balance that ties trust to auditing and oversight systems.

In a similar way, we achieve the agility and cost flexibility we want from the Cloud only when we can trust suppliers. A big part of that trust is to find the right balance. In coming weeks, we’ll look at the possibilities to keep control through performance measurement. Harzog is absolutely right to underline the importance of end-to-end results; we’ll return so on with more to say about application performance management (APM), especially in its end-to-end aspects.

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