By David Baum
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) got its start more than 10 years ago, as service providers made extra computing, storage, and network capacity available to customers on a subscription basis. These remote-technology offerings gave organizations an alternative to provisioning, installing, and maintaining their own IT infrastructure and paved the way for individuals, companies, and governments to tap into unlimited data center assets.
Those first-generation cloud offerings have become extremely popular—but today’s customers want more. More power. More versatility. More control.
Oracle has responded with next-generation IaaS offerings that combine the elasticity and utility of the public cloud with the granular control, security, and predictability of on-premises infrastructure.
“One of the key ideas of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure—initially introduced as Oracle Bare Metal Cloud Services—is to meet customers where they are,” says Marc Levy, an architect and vice president of software development at Oracle. “If they want to move their applications as they are, they can do that. And they can do that because Oracle Cloud Infrastructure supports a wide variety of compute—from virtual machines to bare metal servers to engineered systems such as Oracle Exadata—all in the same cloud infrastructure. So customers can use the familiar infrastructure patterns they use on premises—for example, a very high-performance engineered system—and they can also adopt cloud-native patterns.”
Building on Raw Power
This type of flexibility and power is perfect for companies such as Zenotech, an Oracle partner that supplies cloud-based solutions for computational fluid dynamics. Zenotech helps engineers at aerospace companies, automotive companies, and civil engineering firms simulate airflow over airplane wings, airflow around buildings, and similar types of complex engineering challenges. Its software platform and cloud brokerage service, known as Elastic Private Interactive Cloud (EPIC), enables customers to initiate and scale these complex jobs within a high-performance computing environment. Today, many of those jobs run on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure services.
“We invested in Oracle Cloud Infrastructure because it includes some of the latest hardware available anywhere in the world,” says David Standingford, director and cofounder at Zenotech. “By linking directly with Oracle infrastructure, our EPIC platform, which is designed to match elements in complex, heterogeneous workflows with the optimal hardware, will have unmatched performance.”
Headquarters: Bristol, UK
Oracle products: Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, including Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Compute
Zenotech powers these engineering simulation jobs using infrastructure from Amazon Web Services, the University of Cambridge, and the Bristol, UK–based Centre for Modelling and Simulation, among a growing list of providers.
But the company is always looking for additional online resources to scale up during sudden bursts of activity—particularly where new hardware offers distinctive attributes to deliver a performance advantage or where customers have special platform requirements that are difficult or impossible to deliver in a shared environment, including high-security, root access to operating systems and hypervisors and hardware-level access.
This is where Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Compute, an enterprise-grade infrastructure service that provides a rapidly provisioned virtual compute environment, really delivered, according to Zenotech.
“We were looking for solutions to deliver our engineering capabilities without incurring the overhead of buying and maintaining the latest hardware,” says Standingford. “What we really like about the bare metal offering from Oracle is that there is very little technology between us and the hardware.”
What we really like about the bare metal offering from Oracle is that there is very little technology between us and the hardware.”–David Standingford, Director and Cofounder, Zenotech
Zenotech is currently flexibly using up to 30 standard Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Compute instances, each with 36 cores, 256 GB of RAM, and local solid-state drive (SSD) block storage. “It’s easy to use all that power because we have so much control over the cloud environment,” says Standingford.
Computational fluid dynamics and computational aerodynamics have always consumed a huge amount of computing resources. Standingford believes on-demand cloud services such as Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Compute are ideal for these resource-intensive tasks.
“Oracle’s adoption-based model can be significantly less expensive than other options if you use enough of it, plus you open yourself up to all sorts of other process improvements, such as training, integration, and metering the cost of your cloud services,” says Standingford. “We always have as much power as we need for any given task. Our customers aren’t constrained, and we don’t pay for more than we use.”
And for a company vested in providing innovative cloud services to its own customers, Zenotech’s partnership with Oracle is a strategic one. “When it comes to innovation in the cloud, Oracle is one of the fast movers,” Standingford says. “For example, they are very responsive to emerging requirements in the areas of adaptive intelligence and machine learning.”
Powering Digital Transformations
According to Oracle’s Levy, the performance, versatility, and availability inherent in Oracle Cloud Infrastructure comes not only from the servers themselves, but from giving each customer its own virtual network, completely isolated from every other customer’s network. Oracle virtualization differs from first-generation cloud providers, which handle virtualization within the hosts—increasing the chance for resource contention and minimizing individual control.
“Oracle’s new IaaS offerings unleash the phenomenal performance that the latest-generation hardware can deliver,” Levy says. “With Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, customers don’t have to worry about the performance degradation that comes when multiple virtual-machine workloads access the same hypervisor at the same time, which can cause I/O bottlenecks.”
It’s a distinction that hasn’t been lost on Zenotech—and thousands of other Oracle Cloud customers. “The Oracle model is making it easier for organizations to understand how and why they should move to the cloud,” says Standingford. “More and more companies are now accepting cloud as the norm.”
Some of these companies utilize IaaS capacity to accelerate digital transformation initiatives, as well as to fast-track the adoption of new technologies. For example, two years ago, EZCORP spent 70 percent of its IT budget maintaining legacy infrastructure and just 30 percent on innovation. In the coming years, senior IT leaders are intent on reversing those numbers as they create a versatile platform for new development and offload their core infrastructure to Oracle Cloud.
“We want to get out of the hardware business and put more emphasis on our revenue-generating applications,” states Ramanujam (Ram) Srinivasan, vice president of enterprise IT at EZCORP. “Our current infrastructure supports 800 stores and cannot scale efficiently to accommodate additional mergers and acquisitions. In addition, our CIO has a vision of delivering far better customer experience, which can be delivered only through a variety of initiatives—a flexible and scalable platform coupled with agile development.”
Headquarters: Austin, Texas
Revenue: US$800 million
EZCORP, a 28-year-old company, runs the second- largest pawn lending chain in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. EZCORP’s business is complex and comprises two closely knit verticals—finance and retail: short-term financing on collateral, and sale of items that come out of such lending as well as used merchandise purchased from customers. To realize the vision for this steadily growing business, EZCORP embarked on an IT transformation project to simplify operational processes, focus on new ideas, and leverage a variety of business data. EZCORP is migrating its on-premises apps and infrastructure to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure and conducting new development natively in Oracle Cloud.
“By 2018, 60 percent of our IT investments will go to new products, new technology, and new projects—versus 30 percent today,” says EZCORP CIO Dave Hurrell. “We’re reducing costs by US$2 million in 2018 and another US$2 million in 2019—US$4 million total.”
Going All In
One of the first applications EZCORP migrated to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure was a homegrown point-of-sale application called EZSystem, which is fundamental to operations at its stores throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The company also used Oracle Cloud Infrastructure to implement a disaster-recovery solution with cloud technology company CloudBasic, to host a third-party integration platform that connects its highly distributed operation, to streamline a FreedomPay credit card application that assists with PCI compliance, and to migrate its Oracle’s PeopleSoft applications handling finance and HR to Oracle Cloud.
Oracle’s IaaS vision was very compelling, especially their dedicated compute platforms that we don’t have to share with anybody else. It improves our performance and our security.”—Ramanujam (Ram) Srinivasan, Vice President, Enterprise IT, EZCORP
“We saw significant benefits with the PeopleSoft migration, in terms of the performance we could expect as well as in the amount of administration required from our side,” says Srinivasan. “Overall, we found the lift-and-shift to be easier than expected. Our finance group didn’t even realize that we had already completed a migration to the cloud.”
Srinivasan and his team are now preparing to migrate EZCORP’s Oracle Hyperion financial applications to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure as well, along with several third-party apps based on the Oracle Cloud REST API, which EZCORP depends on to manage inventory and disaster recovery. Ultimately, EZCORP plans to move the bulk of its big data center to Oracle Cloud. “Calling it a migration is a big understatement,” Srinivasan adds, “because we are actually enhancing the capabilities of everything—database upgrade to disaster recovery—that we have been doing. We are able to monitor applications through an insightful dashboard in real time.”
EZCORP examined cloud solutions from IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, and Oracle before choosing Oracle’s cloud infrastructure services. “We have been pushing the envelope with Oracle Cloud,” acknowledges Srinivasan. “We see many of the innovation benefits as well as the productivity gains. We have already identified and made performance optimizations and introduced new features very quickly, enhancing business agility. Oracle’s IaaS vision was very compelling, especially their dedicated compute platforms that we don’t have to share with anybody else. It improves our performance and our security.”
Srinivasan says he was drawn to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure for its performance specs, citing the outstanding speed achieved with Oracle’s unique configuration of memory cores, network fabric, and storage. “The sheer computing power is definitely more compelling on the Oracle platform,” he adds.
Hurrell and his team now have a good read on EZCORP’s transaction metrics, thanks to the visibility they obtain through the application performance monitoring console that Oracle provides. “We can tell how long it takes users to move from one page to another, how long a shopping cart takes to write back to the database, and how long it takes to generate loan contracts,” Hurrell explains. “We can see exactly what’s happening across all of our stores and make quick adjustments.”
Hurrell also appreciates the inherent disaster recovery capabilities that he receives by using Oracle Cloud. “We’re a medium-size business so we don’t have a lot of money to invest in a separate data center for disaster recovery purposes,” he says. “Our previous SLA was 72 hours in the event of a critical issue. By moving to Oracle Cloud, we’ve been able to set up real-time database replication in a different city and are in the process of setting up full-blown disaster recovery so we can be back up and running within minutes. That’s a huge step forward. We are actually saving money and getting a much better service.”
From Operations to Innovation
EZCORP isn’t looking to Oracle Cloud just to get out of the hardware business. “We are excited about the growing marketplace and ecosystem of integrated services that will help us concentrate on innovation and speed,” Srinivasan says, “such as firewalls, CASB [cloud access security broker], mobile, big data compute, and streaming analytics.”
Hurrell also plans to utilize Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Container Service for Oracle Public Cloud as well as Oracle platform-as-a-service (PaaS) products for these new development initiatives at EZCORP, including Oracle Developer Cloud, Oracle Integration Cloud Service, Oracle Big Data Cloud Service, and Oracle Analytics Cloud. Now that Oracle is handling the bulk of the company’s operations, EZCORP’s IT team is available to address new opportunities. “This is quite appealing to our IT staff,” Hurrell says. “They can learn new things, and get involved with new technology rather than just struggling to administer the old.”
Boosting Business Continuity
For Elton Oil Company, moving data backups from the data center to the cloud has become critically important to securing that data and making it available in the event of an outage. Elton Oil markets and distributes petroleum products through 30 service stations throughout Senegal, in West Africa. The company offers epayment services in its Eden’s convenience stores, eservices, and Oasis gas stations. Elton also exports petroleum products to neighboring Mali and to its subsidiary in Guinea-Bissau.
Although petroleum reserves have been discovered in Senegal, they have not yet been extracted. All fuel is imported through multinational companies on the open market, with the price per barrel fixed to the dollar. It’s a business of sudden market fluctuations and slender margins, which requires Elton Oil to maintain an extremely efficient IT infrastructure.
Headquarters: Dakar, Senegal
Revenue: US$97.8 million
In 2016, Elton Oil began looking for a cost-effective disaster recovery solution to supplement its local backup strategy. Previously, Elton had tried to back up critical data to a remote site managed by a third party through synchronization of data domains. But this approach failed because of bandwidth issues, says Abdoulaye Dieng, IT manager at Elton Oil.
“All of our business data must be available in the event of a disaster,” Dieng explains. “When attending a webinar hosted by Oracle, we learned about Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Storage and decided to move our file storage and email backup to the cloud. Oracle offered an external, secure, safe, encrypted database in the cloud,” he adds. “Oracle Cloud services are very affordable compared to other cloud vendors.”
Each day, point-of-sale systems within Elton’s retail outlets upload data to a central JD Edwards EnterpriseOne enterprise resource planning (ERP) system from Oracle at Elton’s headquarters in Dakar. All sensitive data—including financials, management, transportation, distribution, and logistics—resides in a relational database that underpins these JD Edwards applications. Today, with available bandwidth of just 2 MB, Elton is able to back up its 100 GB database, compressed to 7 GB, in fewer than 20 minutes thanks to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Storage Software Appliance—which happens to be free and easy to implement, says Dieng.
Oracle Cloud is not only a strategic element of Elton Oil’s IT strategy. It is an essential part of our business.” —Abdoulaye Dieng, IT Manager, Elton Oil
“The data segmentation tool provided by Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Storage Software Appliance breaks the data up into small parcels, allowing us to send them to the cloud despite the low bandwidth available,” he adds.
Uploading the data to Oracle Cloud in discrete pieces mitigates Elton Oil’s previous issues with slow wide-area-network speeds. “Once the software appliance was installed and configured, all we had to do was point to the folder in the cloud, which looks like a local folder,” Dieng explains. “SQL agents on the appliance handle all the details of migrating data to Oracle Cloud.”
What’s the upshot? Elton’s widely dispersed staff gained uninterrupted access to timely distribution data, while eliminating concerns about data loss via a natural disaster or other mishap—with no capital investments or additional hardware required. Furthermore, by replicating data across multiple storage nodes within the same data center, Elton Oil gained protection from hardware failures and has minimized the chance of data corruption.
Primed for Expansion
With recent new discoveries of crude oil and gas in the region, Senegal’s petroleum industry is set to expand. As Elton Oil’s business grows, so does its database of products, clients, and suppliers. While Elton Oil began by creating a disaster recovery site for its JD Edwards data, ultimately the company plans to move all its business data to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure—along with a complete migration of its JD Edwards applications. As Dieng evaluates Oracle’s evolving family of IaaS, PaaS, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, he is confident that their new cloud assets will power the next wave of innovation.
“We like to stay up to date with what Oracle is offering,” Dieng concludes. “The robustness and reliability of the Oracle technology are very important to us, and the costs are better than the competing cloud solutions. Oracle Cloud is not only a strategic element of Elton Oil’s IT strategy. It is an essential part of our business.”
Photography by Pedro Murteira, Ali Smith/The Verbatim Agency, Paul S. Howell, and Jane Hahn/The Verbatim Agency