You have to admire Larry Ellison, the Oracle co-founder and chief executive officer of IT giant Oracle. Well, maybe admire isn't the right word. But you can at least be amused by him.
Yesterday, Ellison spent the last hour of the five-hour Sun takeover extravaganza taking questions from the audience, mostly fielding softball queries about the America's Cup boat race or why he should buy the Golden State Warriors basketball team. But mixed in among the sycophantic admiration for Ellison and Oracle, there were, thankfully, a few serious things said by Ellison and a handful of decent questions.
"We're excited to be in all of these new businesses with these fantastic people from Sun," Ellison started off saying, referring to the "fabulous Sparc chips" and to Solaris as the "best high-end Unix operating system in the world." Oracle intends to put those Sun hardware and software engineers to work, making integrated and highly tuned application, database, and middleware machines. The kind of thing that the IBM of the 1960s put together with a silly old thing called the System/360 mainframe.
"It's not that it hasn't been done before," Ellison said. "That strategy made IBM the most important company in the history of Earth. So we kind of like that strategy. So we are going to adopt it."
But don't get the wrong idea. Oracle is going to sell all of the chunks of its software stack to run on other hardware and software platforms as well. Oracle can have its cake and eat yours too. So if customers want to put Oracle's database on Hewlett-Packard servers running Windows, that's cool, or maybe they might want to put middleware on Dell boxes. Well, go for it. "We're in both businesses: the best-of-breed component business and the integrated systems business."
IBM decided it could make more money getting out of integrated systems, which it started to do in the 1980s. It sold components and then, later in the 1990s, it sold services to integrate and manage systems that customers cobbled together. IBM has made a fortune on this bet, and it did so because of the onslaught of much cheaper systems - first minicomputers, then Unix boxes, then Wintel machines - that could do the work of IBM's proprietary midrange and mainframe boxes.
In days gone by, IBM was a dominant supplier of software on its System/3X and AS/400 minicomputers, but it gradually sold off those businesses so it could become the preferred and presumably neutral supplier of systems on which all kinds of applications run. IBM just wanted its share of the server and storage sales and more than its share of the services revenues, which added together gave the company immense account control at some 500,000 businesses in the world. It sure beat going bankrupt, which was Big Blue's other option in the early 1990s.
Because there is only currently one co-branded Sun-Oracle product, the Exadata V2 database appliance, that was what Ellison and a lot of his colleagues talked about. That cluster, which was rechristened the Sun|Oracle Database Machine at yesterday's event - although Ellison didn't appear to get that memo - was announced last September, many months after Oracle had hoped to close the Sun deal.
The Exadata box combines Sun's X4170 rack servers (used for database processing), X4275 rack servers (equipped with disk and flash drives and running Oracle's Exadata storage software, which has optimizations to run data warehousing and online transaction processing (OLTP) queries), and Sun's InfiniBand switches to glue them together. The database servers are equipped with Oracle 11g Release 2 (presumably with the Real Application Clusters extensions for parallel database processing) and Oracle Enterprise Linux, and the storage servers run Exadata Storage Server Release 11.2.