Global CIO: Oracle Needs More Than Ellison's Talk To Beat IBM's Systems - InformationWeek
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04:39 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans

Global CIO: Oracle Needs More Than Ellison's Talk To Beat IBM's Systems

IBM's counterattacking on multiple fronts, emphasizing 50 years in optimized systems and questioning Oracle's abilities.

--On the electronic forum of YouTube, IBM has posted a Servers For Truth campaign-ad spoof;

--IBM has pointedly and aggressively refuted some claims Ellison recently made about Oracle-Sun's database superiority over DB2 when running on optimized systems, and you can read all about that in Global CIO: IBM Calls Out Oracle's Ellison On Database Claims;

--IBM hardware executives used the recent Power7 launch event to (a) emphasize Power7's pedigree as the latest and most-sophisticated example of IBM's long history of optimized systems, and (b) knock Oracle's vaporware talk about how it will whip IBM in optimized systems; and,

--IBM has begun compiling lists and qualifications of its "workload-optimized systems" and offered some insights into its optimized-systems strategy from VP of Next Generation Computing Systems Bijan Davari.

Because chip designers have maxed out their ability to keep accelerating processor frequencies—after a 20-year stretch in which they boosted those speeds by 1,000X, the maximum additional increase in frequency speed is only about 2X, Davari said—computer makers have had to look in lots of other areas to continue cranking up the performance. And mastering that new capability, Davari said, has given IBM an unmatched set of insights, technologies, approaches, and processes.

"For security functionality, for example, where you've got to monitor enormous data streams coming in and going out, we've created specific accelerators and very fast I/O capabilities, and this specific accelrator designed for this precise task can surpass general-performance computers' performance by very large amounts—sometimes even 50X better," Davari said.

"When you exercise all the muscle groups at the same time in coordination, huge gains in performance are possible."

And IBM stands alone in being able to coordinate the workout routines for those optimized-systems muscle groups, Davari said, because of the depth and extent of its vertical integration.

"We're the only company in the world that designs the chips, fabs the chips, installs them in the systems, writes the hypervisor, writes the database, etc., etc., so that we, quite literally, have many tens of thousands of people focused on actually doing this."

And then, taking a swipe at Ellison's contention that the Oracle-Sun matchup will allow "the app guy to be connected to the database guy to be connected to the silicon guy," Davari said that deeply coordinated and orchestrated end-to-end optimization is a unique competitive advantage for IBM that other companies can talk about but not match.

"It's the kind of thing we do constantly—it's something we've focused on very, very heavily for years," Davari said. "And the result has been that it allows us to get huge end-to-end performance increases for end-user applications because we can tailor these systems to the Nth degree."

As an example, Davari talked about the risk-management side of the financial-services industry where "shaving off a few milliseconds can mean billions of dollars." Achieving that type of breakthrough, he said, "requires optimization at every single point, in every single piece of the system, with every component, and every interaction."

And while not talking about billions of dollars, IBM customer said IBM's optimized CognosNow operational-performance system "has shown us that IBM has really differentiated themselves from anyone else in the market," said director of IT services Scott Noerr. "We looked at a lot of alternatives before we went with CognosNow, and we didn't see anything else in the market that can do what it can."

The IBM product—one of about a dozen workload-optimized systems that IBM offers—was originally used to help optimize the performance of its call-center agents, who take calls and sell policies from several hundred different providers. The system helped identify the optimal pacing of calls per employee by pairing efficiencies with top closing rates, Noerr said.

As a result, Noerr plans to expand the CognosNow deployment across the company into a handful of other functions, including the rapidly growing paid-search business, the monitoring of's proprietary quoting solution, evaluating performance of third-party vendors, and more.

So back to Oracle: it appears to have a blockbuster high-end product with the Exadata Database Machine, which Ellison has said will become a billion-dollar breakthrough product and exemplifies his vision for where the IT industry is headed. Here's how he described that vision during a recent earnings call with analysts and captured in our recent column, Global CIO: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison On The Future Of IT:

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