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Customers want harmony as Oracle and AWS war over cloud database turf

Oracle and AWS continue to fight over which is the better environment for running database workloads in the cloud. But for many IT shops, it's not an either-or decision.

Oracle and AWS are locked in battle over where IT shops should host their database workloads. But the decision isn't black and white for customers moving to the cloud.

Both Oracle and AWS are pushing hard to get on-premises databases and applications to their respective clouds, with Oracle trying to maintain its market share and Amazon crowding its way into the space. This fight likely won't end anytime soon, as IT shops look to decrease their data center footprints and find the best fit for their legacy workloads.

The back and forth began at the Amazon re:Invent conference last November, where executives took thinly veiled jabs at Oracle and introduced services aimed at getting its customers on AWS. The latest dig came from Oracle CTO Larry Ellison, who spent the bulk of one of his keynote speeches at Oracle OpenWorld last week talking about how the company's cloud was a better environment for database workloads than AWS.

Boingo Wireless Inc., a Los Angeles-based mobile internet access provider, reached a refresh cycle with its Oracle database, and it evaluated Oracle Exadata and moving to SAP HANA before it ultimately selected Amazon Redshift. The other providers probably would have offered similar performance and higher service-level agreements, but Boingo chose Amazon because of the breadth of services it already used and the savings from offloading it to AWS, said Kishore Raja, director of strategic programs at Boingo.

"The key thing was the administration was completely managed," Raja said. "That was something which helped massively when we made the move."

Boingo has since moved many more workloads to AWS, but it hasn't abandoned Oracle completely; it still uses Oracle ERP and Oracle Fusion Applications. Decisions on where to house workloads should be made on a case-by-case basis, because determining the best environments is so application-specific, Raja said.

"It's not like one size fits all," Raja said. "You need to have a combination of services and applications."

Oracle and AWS in database migration fight

Many IT pros view database migration as a blocker to cloud migration, and some see Oracle as being deliberately obstructionist, said Lydia Leong, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

AWS is going after databases because it's another high-margin market that can be undercut, but running Oracle databases directly on AWS is not always optimal -- and it's done relatively rarely, Leong said. In addition, Oracle Real Application Clusters cannot be run on AWS because of network functionality restrictions within AWS environments.

But those limitations won't prevent Oracle customers from using workarounds to move to other providers, including putting their Oracle database in a colocation facility and using Direct Connect to tie into AWS.

"Customers have to deal with legacy technology, and that legacy is going to include Oracle databases," Leong said. "Whether that prevents other cloud providers [from gaining market share] is doubtful; customers work their way around it."

Leong described Oracle's next-generation infrastructure as a service (IaaS), which began rolling out last week as a direct competitor to AWS, as a "minimally viable product, with the foundation of a future competitive offering." Eventually, the product could mature enough to carve out a space as a superior environment for running its applications, but for Oracle to truly succeed in the public cloud, it must provide more functionality to customers.

Going with the cloud provider that got you there

Part of the transition to cloud will depend upon familiarity with a vendor and how quickly IT shops go beyond their own firewalls. Oracle customer Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corp., in Niskayuna, N.Y., which works on naval nuclear propulsion technology, has most of its workloads on premises. As a government subcontractor, it likely will have to deploy a hybrid infrastructure in the future, rather than going all-in on public cloud, said Tim Hallenbeck, a database administrator at BMPC.

"We are primarily an Oracle shop, and we're so entrenched in it that, to break ourselves away would be a real challenge," Hallenbeck said.

Pete Beer, senior manager of EBS and Hyperion at UTi Worldwide Inc., has worked with Oracle and AWS. He found using Oracle on AWS to be limiting and too expensive, and he said he sees potential in Oracle's new IaaS because of the underlying pieces.

"Oracle understands building things in a modular way, so that you can tune specific parts of it and disassociate it enough to upgrade hardware without upgrading software necessarily," Beer said.

Beer said he also sees potential in Oracle's Accelerated Buying Experience, a streamlined buying process introduced earlier this year to improve its relationships with customers.

"Oracle is traditionally very challenging to work with in terms of licensing, but if it were pure subscription -- and that includes everything -- that's going to simplify it a lot and give people the flexibility they've been looking for all along," he said.

Amazon goes for the database

Amazon offers several cloud databases, including DynamoDB, Redshift and Aurora, which is the fastest-growing AWS offering. Amazon's Relational Database Service offers a platform for a range of popular relational databases, including Oracle. It also has a Database Migration Service and Snowball, a physical device for transferring data in and out of its data centers.

Thomas Publishing Co., based in New York, decided several years ago to shrink its data center footprint and move most of its systems to the cloud, including its public-facing publishing systems, web publications and back-office assistance. At the time, Amazon was the only provider that could meet all its needs, but even Oracle's new IaaS offering won't be enough to pull them off AWS, said CTO Hans Wald.

"It would have to be a pretty huge effort to try and move all the breadth of services that we have at this point," Wald said. "It's a bit late for us to consider it -- at least for a while."

Thomas moved a portion of its Oracle database and Oracle applications to AWS, and it achieved significant performance improvements and cost savings, compared with its on-premises setup. But it still couldn't move some of its legacy apps that were written based on Oracle procedures and functions.

"The data is comparatively easy to port from one database to the other," Wald said. "The code is much more difficult."

Thomas eventually used a third-party vendor, Apps Associates LLC, to migrate application code to Aurora for a single project, and it's looking to move other legacy systems to AWS using a similar pattern.

Despite the move to consolidate its workloads on AWS, Thomas remains an Oracle customer in cases where the application and database tiers are tightly connected, such as E-Business Suite and Hyperion, Wald said. He said he hopes the relationship between Oracle and AWS doesn't become strained to the point where Oracle starts looking at restrictions on licensing or support.

"It would be great if AWS and Oracle could just maintain a good working relationship, because we need them both," Wald said. "Hopefully, Oracle believes they need AWS and [will] continue to work with them and don't make it more difficult."

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's data center and virtualization media group. Contact him at [email protected].

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