Global CIO: Larry Ellison Will Need A Time Machine To Catch Us, Says IBM - InformationWeek
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Bob Evans
Bob Evans

Global CIO: Larry Ellison Will Need A Time Machine To Catch Us, Says IBM

Ellison's vowed to remake Oracle in the fashion of circa-1960 IBM: a true systems company. But IBM says it's impossible for Ellison to overcome that 50-year head start.

As a new wave of extremely high-performance systems hits the market in 2011, CIOs will have the luxury of harnessing or tapping into massive new levels of highly intelligent computing power for everything from OLTP to data warehousing to advanced analytics.

And while many IT vendors are helping to drive those unprecedented performance levels—chief among them SAP, whose advances we'll analyze on Monday—two companies that have expressed the most naked ambition about offering the most-powerful systems on the planet are IBM and Oracle.

They're not speaking about this in vague generalities, or issuing any aw-shucks euphemisms for how they're just happy to be here.

Quite the contrary: both IBM and Oracle are singling each other out as primary competitors in the battle to become the unquestioned leader in developing the high-end systems that customers are demanding for crunching through larger and more-complex workloads than businesses have ever tried to manage before, and at speeds that just a few years ago would have been considered impossible.

So who's going to win this high-performance race? Larry Ellison says all he wants is a chance—just a fair chance—to fulfill the promise created by IBM CEO T.J. Watson Jr. 50 years ago and that Ellison says IBM has failed since then to pursue.

But IBM says that while it's all fine and dandy for Ellison and others to covet the top spot in systems IBM currently holds, time is very clearly on IBM's side as its 50 years of relentless investments in software engineering and chip technology and systems engineering and integration and materials science and storage technology and networking and more have combined to give it a lead over its rivals that IBM feels will be just about impossible to close.

For CIOs, it's important to see this intense competition in the proper perspective, which is not just some testosterone-driven chest-beating.

Instead, what Oracle and IBM are engaged in is a very fundamental transformation of the value proposition and structure of the IT-industry business model away from the DIY model where customers buy tons of components and then spend many months putting them together, and toward a near-term future where huge and rapidly reconstituting IT powerhouses do the engineering, assembly, tuning, integration, and optimizations for the customer.

And they're driving toward being the leaders of a cohesive world of business-driven systems rather than a fragmented world of wonderful but disconnected stuff.

Ellison believes that his acquisition of Sun and his reinvention of Oracle from software-only to "software and hardware engineered together", along with massive investments in all that combined technology, will give him and his company a chance to unseat IBM as the #1 maker of high-end systems.

IBM says fuhgeddaboudit: decades of hard-earned discovery and insight and exploration and achievement can't be matched in just a couple of years, no matter how eager or committed the pursuer.

Take a look, from about 16 months ago, at Ellison's first comments on his desire to turn Oracle into the type of company that he feels IBM could have been:

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