By Jeff Erickson | June 2021
Giovani Cani was building a new web app for his company’s logistics business when the pandemic hit Toronto. Suddenly, there was a run on groceries just as COVID-19 restrictions were hampering operations. For example, drivers could no longer gather to receive paper-based route details from dispatchers. Cani’s team would have to provide real-time route information to workers’ mobile devices.
As Vice President of IT Delivery at Wilson Transportation and Leasing Group, Cani leads the team that provides IT solutions for orchestrating complex trailer yards at four sprawling distribution centers and delivering food and other goods to more than 260 grocery stores across Ontario, Canada.
Cani’s team had built a solution to automate key operations and share information using another cloud company, “but soon after going live, we noticed that it would take weeks, if not months, to build, test, and deploy change requests,” Cani says. He knew the moment called for something new.
Even as work continued in the other cloud, he spun up an Oracle Autonomous Transaction Processing database, using the Oracle Cloud Free Tier that lets developers try cloud infrastructure at no cost. He started tinkering with the low-code development environment called Oracle Application Express, or APEX. Within hours, the team had a working solution. In two days, his team had built a pilot application. “It was equivalent to the one that had taken months to build on AWS,” Cani says, still astonished.
The new application lets workers with handheld devices scan the barcode on a trailer and quickly enter details, such as contents, availability, and refrigeration status, digitizing the workflow. Data gathered in the system is available in real time to all distribution centers, bringing more transparency and accountability to the operation. The data collected is time-stamped, geotagged, searchable, and kept for historical analysis.
The Free Tier “allowed us to explore, test, and become comfortable with our proof of concept,” says Cani. “The business team was truly impressed with what we were able deliver in such a short time frame,” he says. “We then said, ‘OK, now let’s get the full, paid version and start growing the user base.’”
A year later, Cani’s team still uses the application it started on Free Tier with Oracle Autonomous Database and APEX, and continues to use Free Tier cloud services to try new features in the latest release of APEX before deciding to upgrade.
“The Free Tier “allowed us to explore, test, and become comfortable with our proof of concept…We then said, ‘OK, now let’s get the full, paid version and start growing the user base.’”
Free Tier includes “Always Free” services which don’t expire, so developers can tinker with something at their own pace.
“Always Free means always free,” says Oracle’s Rex Wang, vice president of developer marketing. “They never expire, and the list of free cloud resources from Oracle continues to grow.” The company has launched 13 new Always Free Services in the last 12 months.
Oracle’s Free Tier Services include x86 and Arm-based compute, block storage, object storage, archive storage, a variety of databases (including JSON and NoSQL databases), the flagship Oracle Autonomous Databases, APEX application development, as well as observability offerings, such as logging and application performance monitoring. With more than 20 Always Free Services, Oracle offers “one of, if not the most generous set of free services in the industry,” Wang says.
For example, Oracle’s recently released Always Free Arm Ampere A1 compute service offers four cores and 24 GB of memory—easily the most generous available, says Wang. Oracle also increased its Always Free block storage offering to 200 GB, while AWS currently offers 30 GB free for only 12 months. And with Oracle Autonomous Database, developers get two databases with 20 GB each as Always Free Services versus the AWS offerings of one RDS database which expires in 12 months or a Redshift data warehouse which expires in two months, according to AWS.
Developers are doing “some really serious computing” with these free services, says Wang. “You can build, test, and deploy real apps, rather than try a little taste,” he says. “With four Arm cores, 24 GB of memory, and 200 GB of block storage, that’s enough to do some serious machine learning and data science. You can do many things, even run WordPress or spin up a Minecraft server if you want.”
The always free nature of these services is extremely helpful to startups, says Peter Merkert, cofounder and CTO of retraced, whose technology helps clothing brands build fair and sustainable businesses. The company’s platform uses blockchain technology in Oracle Cloud Infrastructure to help apparel companies verify and communicate the sustainability of each step in their supply chains. “We have a denim manufacturer in Pakistan who knows that if they can trace their supply chain back to the sustainable cotton farms they support, that will help them stand out in a crowded denim market,” he says. “We’re working to make that easy for them.”
Merkert’s team started with Oracle Cloud Free Tier to build their solution on Oracle Autonomous Database and Oracle Blockchain, among other services. Knowing the database services were always free gave his team the confidence to build the business. “Because with every other cloud provider, after a year—right at the delicate point when you finally start to get paying clients—a big bill arrives,” he says.
Now up and running with paying clients, retraced still uses some elements of Free Tier. “We use this free load balancer in our staging environment all the time, and Always Free compute to stage Kubernetes clusters,” he says. “And we constantly use a Free Tier Oracle Autonomous Data Warehouse because you can connect it directly to Oracle Blockchain Platform.” Using Autonomous Data Warehouse, “the SQL-side JSON stuff is easy and faster than querying the blockchain service.” And because he has data in Always Free Autonomous Data Warehouse, “sometimes we spin up the Oracle Analytics Cloud to investigate something or visualize it.” Because of the elasticity of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, “I can just spin it up for a few hours. It’s amazing.”
These are the kind of stories that inspire the development group behind the Free Tier program for Oracle Cloud. “We’ve been hearing from developers and our customers that they really like these free services, and we’re seeing increased consumption,” says Oracle’s Wang. “That’s because anyone—customers, open source developers, and students—can come try them out for as long as they want. We’re really focusing on making the lives of developers easier. Always Free is the perfect way to do that.”
Photography: Janosch Kunze for Jyoti - Fair Works; Wilson Transportation and Leasing Group; retraced