Larry Ellison's aggressive vision for Oracle-Sun and his bluntly stated plans to compete full-speed ahead against IBM in the optimized-systems business are good for customers and good for this business. As Robert Browning once asked, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"
In an industry supersaturated with incrementalist thinking masquerading as insightful leadership, Ellison is promising to shake up the tired approaches that have become the norm for too many IT suppliers and, by extension, too many of their CIO customers. I applaud the attention Ellison has brought through his recent high-profile comments to optimized systems, specialized and high-performance computing machines and appliances, animated up-front thinking and execution from IT suppliers, and reduced piecework for CIOs.
But at some point, the time for talk ends and the only thing that matters is what's real and tested and proven, right here right now. And in that context, Oracle and Ellison's comments can be viewed in one of two ways: as a pugnacious attack dog ready to tear into some red meat, or as a yippy poodle nipping the ankles of a Great Dane who's only vaguely aware that the poodle's in the same zip code.
My vote? I'd say that while Ellison has demonstrated—many times in many ways—that he's fearless and risk-loving and extremely capable, he can't so much as hold a candle to IBM's systems business in general, and in particular to its achievements in delivering powerful and proven optimized systems for the most demanding of business tasks.
When Oracle's sales team gets a few big customers to rip out some of their current IBM database systems and replace them with Oracle-Sun Exadata Database Machines, then it'll be okay for the next round of talk. When Oracle's sales team convinces some global corporations to mothball their high-end IBM storage gear and go instead with Oracle-Sun's forthcoming ZFS Storage Appliance, then it'll be time to hear more about the progress Ellison's team is making in weaving together the best of Oracle's software and the best of Sun's hardware.
But until then, it's probably best for Oracle to consider that the IT world has seen the challenge Ellison has thrown down to IBM, and is willing to give the newly expanded company time to begin delivering. Otherwise, the yippy poodle image will begin to come more and more into focus.
The problem for Oracle and Ellison is that the rest of the world's not just sitting still in suspended animation until Ellison's plans can be converted into reality. IBM is counterattacking Ellison and Oracle on multiple fronts: