Database, SQL and PL/SQL

Utility Computing in the Cloud

Oracle Database Cloud Service lets businesses concentrate on business.

By Philip J. Gill

March/April 2013

In an ideal world, information technology would just be there, like a gas or electric utility—invisible, transparent, always available when you need it but never in the way of getting down to the business at hand. With IT as a utility, businesses could just plug into the already-provided infrastructure and start operating, paying as they go and paying only for what they need. Businesses could spend time adding value and features to the business processes and providing services to their customers, rather than managing an IT shop.

Such is the goal of cloud computing in general, and Oracle Cloud—a complete set of cloud-based services for businesses large and small—in particular. Not all cloud offerings are created equal, however, and it’s the range of integrated services that defines comprehensive cloud solutions.

Location: Dublin, Ireland
Industry: Software and services
Oracle products: Oracle Database Cloud Service, Oracle Application Express

Location: Denver, Colorado
Industry: Media and entertainment
Oracle products: Oracle Database Cloud Service, Oracle Application Express

“The Oracle Database cloud is a true cloud,” says Rick Greenwald, director of product management for Oracle Database Cloud Service, one of the Oracle Cloud solutions.

“Cloud computing offers a wide range of services, beginning with infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and escalating up the hierarchy to platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS). Regardless of the service level, it is important to understand two things—first, that levels below the target level are transparent and inaccessible to users, and second, that all maintenance for those lower levels is done automatically.”

With Oracle Database Cloud Service, users don’t need to install, configure, or manage the underlying database, Greenwald says, although they do get the full power of data manipulation and access of Oracle Database. “With Oracle Database Cloud Service, the database management services are provided as part of the platform,” he says. “But users would never have to back up the database.” Just like with a utility, he adds, “it’s done for them.”

Join the Cloud

Want to join the crowd in the cloud? Whether you are moving your IT operations from a traditional host-centric computing model or starting fresh with new business requirements and services, Oracle Cloud is a fast way to get there.

“We joined the Oracle Cloud early access program in 2011 and worked with Oracle’s product team to make the transition of existing code base as straightforward as possible,” says Jan Navratil, CTO at CampusIT, an educational software company based in Dublin, Ireland. “While most of our code worked fine when we deployed it on Oracle Cloud, we used Oracle Application Express to make some modifications to some of our PL/SQL code—mostly standardizing our integration APIs as RESTful-compliant Web services.”

REST, short for representational state transfer, is the predominant Web service design model; it enables transactions between Web servers by allowing loose coupling between different services. “We find that’s something our on-premises customers are taking advantage of as well,” adds Navratil.

Denver, Colorado–based video distribution services provider InteliVideo also takes advantage of Oracle Application Express, using it to customize its Oracle Cloud–based services for each customer. “Some customers may want us to handle the distribution end only, or the payment service only, or provide sales analytics and intelligence,” says Bradley Brown, cofounder and CTO at InteliVideo. “Others want us to do it all, from distribution to sales and social marketing to collecting and processing payments and collecting money and analyzing sales.”

Having It Both Ways

CampusIT is a 12-year-old educational software company that typifies how an established software vendor and its customers are making the transition to cloud computing. Based in Dublin, Ireland, CampusIT offers its Quercus application suite for purchase under a traditional license for on-premises deployments and as a SaaS cloud service.

“Quercus takes a 360-degree view of students during their journey through college,” explains Jan Navratil, CTO at CampusIT. “For many of our customers, it is the mission-critical application.”

Built atop Oracle Database, Quercus simplifies student interaction by providing integrated modules for recruitment, application processing, tuition, enrollment, exams, graduation, and even alumni management. Currently Quercus supports about 30 customers—colleges, universities, and professional education and accreditation organizations—that in turn support 450,000 student users throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Until 2008, CampusIT sold Quercus only in the traditional on-premises way. But that year, CampusIT realized it could better serve its customers and expand its market by introducing “Quercus on Demand” through a UK-based application service provider. The company migrated its existing on-premises software to a Web interface using Oracle Application Express, a software development tool that allows users to quickly build highly scalable Web applications for Oracle databases.

“Today our customers typically face many more challenges than they did 10 years ago, and they are looking to commercial firms such as ourselves for help,” says Navratil. “This has led to increased demand for better performance; more-robust systems; and new expectations of when, where, and how students interact with these student administrative systems.”

These pressures have driven many customers to look at cloud computing solutions to lower costs, meet performance expectations, and provide student access from everything from a desktop or laptop to smartphones and tablets.

In 2010, CampusIT relaunched Quercus on Demand as a SaaS using Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2); the company moved to Oracle Database Cloud Service when it became available the following year. “We’ve been an Oracle shop since Day One,” says Navratil, “so it was a natural step for us.”

“The clear advantage of Oracle Database Cloud Service is that it operates at a much higher level than more-generic cloud platforms like Amazon EC2,” says Navratil. “Oracle Database Cloud Service eliminates many administrative tasks; for example, we don’t need to think about the database server and the Web server and the optimal capacity for each, because it’s all engineered together.”

“Another thing we find attractive with Oracle Cloud is that the solution is provided by a strong vendor,” he says. “This alleviates the worries about whether the solution is going to work or not today and tomorrow. The fact that it’s fully managed helps us as well as helping our customers.”

The entire software stack in Oracle Database Cloud Service is standards-based, another factor in its favor, says Navratil. “One thing that we and our customers want to avoid is lock-in,” he explains. “Because Oracle Database Cloud Service is standards-based, they, like CampusIT, can move in or move out with minimal impact. And that’s really important not just to us but also to our customers.”

CampusIT’s use of Oracle Cloud is expanding; the company’s own staff currently uses Oracle Database Cloud Service for internal software development and quality assurance (QA), and it is considering adding Oracle Social Network Cloud Service as well.

What Is Oracle Cloud?

Oracle Cloud is a broad set of industry-standards-based, integrated services that provide subscription-based access to application, social, platform, and infrastructure services, all completely managed, hosted, and supported by Oracle. With predictable subscription pricing, Oracle Cloud delivers instant value and productivity for business users, developers, and administrators, and it prevents the data and business process fragmentation that occurs when using multiple, siloed public clouds.

Oracle Cloud is powered by leading enterprise-grade engineered systems, including Oracle Exadata and Oracle Exalogic, providing a high-performance, reliable, and secure solution for running critical business applications. Oracle Cloud enables easy self-service for both business users and developers. Business users can order, configure, extend, and monitor their applications; developers and administrators can readily develop, deploy, monitor, and manage their applications.

“One of the main challenges for any student lifecycle management solution is to facilitate efficient cooperation between different groups of people: students, academics, and administrative staff,” explains Navratil. “Each group has different communication preferences. Secure social networking capability such as that provided by Oracle Social Network Cloud Service alongside traditional e-mail, SMS, and texting will increase engagement of ‘digital natives,’ leading to better conversion rates in recruitment and higher retention levels.”

Oracle Cloud, he adds, enables CampusIT’s customers to focus on their business and enables the company, as a software provider, to develop the solutions for customers instead of worrying about the infrastructure and having an army of DBAs and server boxes somewhere in the company. “The self-service element of the cloud enables us to focus on activities that add value to our product and our customers,” he says.

Only in the Cloud

InteliVideo is a year-old Denver, Colorado, startup whose video services platform enables customers to monetize their existing digital video assets, including lectures, training sessions, and the like. Founded in April 2012, InteliVideo exemplifies the new business models that cloud computing can enable.

“We’re an on-demand video platform that is able to play our customers’ videos on any device, anytime, anywhere,” explains Bradley Brown, cofounder and CTO at InteliVideo. “We also protect our customers’ content—which is important to them—so that someone can’t download a video and e-mail it to 100,000 of their closest friends.”

Before launching InteliVideo, Brown—in addition to heading other startups—had been a longtime lecturer and trainer for Oracle Database and other Oracle products. He got the idea for InteliVideo when he was looking for a way to turn his own training videos into revenue-producing assets. “I admired the success of the online app stores for Apple and Android and thought that might be a model for monetizing video content,” he says.

To its customers and their customers, InteliVideo appears as a single, integrated business that provides all its services under one roof—a “white-label service” that gives its customers the option to use their own branding, logo, and screen images. But behind the screens, InteliVideo comprises a series of discrete, independent businesses, all linked through the internet, that appear to customers to be a single entity. “The customer’s customers never know that it’s an outside service,” he says. “For many of our customers, the screen doesn’t even say ‘Powered by InteliVideo.’”

In a previous startup, Brown and his partners purchased, built, and maintained their own Oracle Database and server farm, a process that proved time-consuming and drew their attention away from their main focus.

“When we started InteliVideo, I realized it didn’t make sense to do it all ourselves,” explains Brown, who cites the company’s video distribution services as a prime example.

“Video storage, transcoding, and distribution is a low-profit, commodity business that requires significant investment in infrastructure and ongoing investments in administration,” he continues. “And since there are already several highly reliable providers of digital video distribution services, it simply didn’t make sense for us to do that. Instead, we contracted with existing vendors for that service.”

InteliVideo also signed up for Oracle Database Cloud Service. “Rather than spend time and money running an IT shop, we can concentrate on doing things that add value to our business and our customers’ businesses,” says Brown.

InteliVideo, Brown continues, “is a technology that is effectively a large metadata repository of information, such as who the customer is, who the customer’s customers are, where the video is located, how long customers can watch the video, and so on. We keep track of who watches what, where, when, and why.”

Brown had used Amazon’s cloud computing service before Oracle Cloud and says that he was disappointed. “With Amazon,” he says, “I felt completely on my own, whereas with Oracle Cloud, I felt I had the whole of the Oracle organization behind me.”

“Oracle Cloud also allows us to scale up on demand,” adds Brown. “We don’t have to have additional servers in-house sitting idle, waiting for those occasional spikes in demand. Oracle Cloud handles all that for us, transparently.”

Brown does not miss the responsibilities of purchasing, building, and maintaining—including capacity planning—a new IT infrastructure at InteliVideo. “With Oracle Cloud, all those concerns are gone,” says Brown. “I can concentrate on running my business and adding value to my business, not on running my IT shop.”

The biggest surprise in using Oracle Cloud, says Brown, is the confidence the Oracle name inspires in potential customers. “When I tell our customers that our service runs on Oracle Cloud, their questions about our IT capabilities go away,” says Brown. “Oracle is such a trusted name.”

Next Steps

LEARN more about
 Oracle Cloud
 Oracle Application Express


Photography by Luana Azevedo,Unsplash