Larry Ellison's dream for Oracle has always been to deliver "out-of-the-box" functionality - software that was less distinguishable from devices, devices that were vehicles for delivering software. So Ellison's vision of functionality has always been to some degree, shall we say, "cloudy." But it's hard to put a cloud in a box. And when you try, your competitors and even your (former) friends are liable to try to burn you for it.

They've already started getting out their matches. Today, Oracle formally announced the impending delivery of WebLogic Server 12c, which is software for deploying Java EE 6 applications via servers that can be virtualized. Next week, Oracle will begin delivering this critical next stage of its software delivery architecture. Whether it qualifies as "cloud" may depend on whether you spell it with an upper- or lower-case "c."

The "g" in "Oracle WebLogic Server 11g," released in the summer of 2009, stood for "grid." In the era before Hadoop, Oracle's implementation of "grid" (a word which competitors such as IBM took to mean other things) referred to its Grid Control technology. Still in use all these months later, Grid Control is Oracle's high availability (HA) technique for distributing its database among multiple nodes, in what it calls a Real Application Cluster (RAC, pronounced "rack," a word which competitors take to mean other things).

The "c" in "Oracle WebLogic Server 12c," the first instances of which will be seen next week (the precise date remains unknown), stands for "cloud," a word which competitors such as IBM take to mean other things.

"WebLogic Server 12c is a fully compliant Java EE 6 server. Java EE 6 is significantly forward from a modern application development perspective," said Ajay Patel, Oracle's vice president for its Fusion middleware line, during a company webcast this afternoon. "You have a lightweight programming model that customers have been wanting in the Java EE platform; it's delivered now. It gives you things like contextual dependency injection (CDI), annotations [in code which denote how elements should be treated by dependent libraries and frameworks], POJO-based [Plain Old Java Object] development, and many more."

CDI enables components of code that refer to other reusable components of code, such as Web Beans, to let their references be updated when those components are updated. This way an application that worked perfectly well one week, doesn't collapse the next week when the components that a class depended upon get changed or replaced. The "injection" happens as a result of fulfilling a contract, the name of which is specified in the code but the terms of which are underlying. The terms may change automatically, so the contract or "manifest" for the dependency gets updated in turn, while the code remains the same.

"This is a big Oracle milestone because it delivers Java EE 6 technology in commercial form to the large Oracle middleware installed base," states Al Hilwa, IDC's program director for applications development software, in a note to RWW this afternoon. "Adoption of new versions of Java EE typically moves slowly in the enterprise but offering a certified implementation of the standard framework moves the commercial user migration process along. This milestone also brings added capabilities and integration across the Oracle stack which its customers will find compelling. The integration with the database in particular is an impressive showcase of the value that a full stack provider like Oracle can bring to the table. In fact, the tie-ins in manageability and performance to Oracle RAC and Active DataGuard might incentive for open source users of Java EE to seriously consider the Oracle alternative. I also think the new cloud capabilities for managing and deploying groups of servers will help stimulate cloud adoption and lower the cost for anyone who wants to deploy this technology as a service provider, including Oracle itself."

But what does this really have to do with the "cloud" as we have come to understand it? Apparently fully aware of today's announcement, yesterday in New York, Salesforce.com CEO (and former Oracle executive) Marc Benioff hurled some fireballs - albeit without Oracle's name on them - in the direction of his former boss.

"Beware of the false cloud," pronounced Benioff. "Beware of the false cloud because the false cloud is not efficient, it is not democratic, it is not economical, it is not environmental, it is not open. And as I've gone around the world, what we found is that we've been talking about cloud more and more customers are moving to the cloud, and we all of a sudden find out, what's happening? Well, all of the words are getting used for applying to mainframes. The new proprietary mainframes that are the false cloud. 'Well, we have cloud computing, too! We've got the cloud! And we can install it in your data center tomorrow!' Oh, laugh! Sure, you think it's a funny joke. But not everyone is as enlightened as you are. There's a lot of folks who are like, 'That's right, I'll take one of those clouds, and I'll take one of those and one of those, and then I'll have three of them and, then, I need to upgrade them, though. How do you upgrade the cloud? How do you maintain the cloud?' If you're upgrading and updating the cloud, you're not in the cloud! If it's about more hardware, it's not about the cloud! If it's about another software update, it's not about the cloud! This is inspired by you. We travel the world. You're the ones who have reached out and said to us, 'Yes, bring us something new. Bring us the social enterprise.'"

Salesforce's products don't really compete with Oracle's; nonetheless, Benioff raises a point, one which has a growing base of followers. We asked Hilwa, what's the connection between the cloud where Benioff lives and the one that Ellison's trying to build?

"A lot of what cloud is all about is running virtualized engines in bulk, provisioning them and managing them in an automated, self-service manner, and supporting the develop-to-deploy application cycle," Hilwa told us. "To the extent that the software can spin out new engines under automated control then it can support elasticity requirements. The distinction between public and private comes down to whether said functionality is running inside or outside the firewall."

Is it possible, then, that Oracle's doing a better job at advancing the cause of Java - by marrying it to Ellison's "out-of-the-box" marketing methodology - than Sun Microsystems ever could? "Oracle brings two things to Java that Sun lacked, aside from simply more profits to plow back into the community effort," responds Hilwa. "1. It is able to focus the R&D into more practical and ultimately monetizable areas for the ecosystem that it can demonstrate as an example itself of a vigorous and successful commercial entity. 2: It has a more focused, decisive and no-nonsense style of management that it can bring to the overly bureaucratic Java governance process. We have seen the results of some this decisiveness in moving the standards along faster and bringing other players to the JDK, feats that Sun bogged down with.

"Overall, I think the jury is in on Oracle's effectiveness as a Java custodian," the IDC analyst adds, "and the story looks good - certainly much better than the community initially expected."