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8/9/2010
07:36 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: Oracle's Fowler Says Systems Performance About To Explode

More-powerful engineered systems will give customers dramatically expanded insights, options, and opportunities, says Oracle's systems chief.

Oracle executive vice president of systems John Fowler clearly revels in the significant new investments Larry Ellison is pumping into every facet of Fowler's organization: the hiring each day of more engineers, the expansion in scale and funding for chip development, the creation of advanced systems running thousands of threads and handling hundreds of terabytes of memory, and imagining what the "refactored" storage and server systems of the future will look like.

But what really animates the already-mercurial Fowler are his ideas for how all that geeky, inside-the-labs stuff can be expressed in business environments to unleash for clients opportunities wring unprecedented customer and marketplace insights out of the mountains of data and information that they're accumulating today faster than they know how to manage it.

"On our server systems, now that we're with Oracle, we plan on at least doubling performance every two years," Fowler said in a recent interview on the former Sun campus about 20 minutes from Oracle headquarters. "That's pretty aggressive, but actually, that's not really the exciting part because what's really happening in most enterprises is that what people would like to do is to operate on, say, 10 times the information they have today. So whether it's consumer analytics, or collecting smart-meter data in the utilities thing, or becoming very much better at seismic and oil exploration, or to properly handle national health-record systems.

"There's just an endless number of examples where if you can take a richer data in-feed, and you have a set of data models behind it that let you look at all that in five or six or 10 different ways instead of in just one way, you can accelerate your business. I don't care if you're in transportation, if you're in banking, manufacturing, the military, telephony—all of those areas really benefit if they can enrich the data and speed up the access to that data and thereby gain great advantage. To me, that's the most exciting aspect of infrastructure development today."

Oh yes—and it all has to be done in real time.

(For a technical dive into Oracle's hardware strategy, read Alex Wolfe's InformationWeek Analytics research report, 2010 State of Server Technology. And for much more analysis on Oracle and its products and strategies, be sure to see our "Recommended Reading" list at the bottom of this column.)

That's the single biggest breakthrough area for CIOs today: the effort by corporations in every industry to develop the ability to harness the relentless torrents of data and information that our deeply wired world is creating, and convert all that noise into strategic assets that can be elegantly captured, manipulated, analyzed, recombined, and re-imagined to gain the best possible business insight.

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It's certainly a market opportunity that IBM is focusing upon intently with its couple of dozen acquisitions of business-intelligence and predictive-analytics companies, and in its parallel revamping of its high-end systems that it expects will deliver exactly the type of unprecedented performance Fowler has described.

It's also at the core of what SAP's been concentrating on this year with its imminent launch of products featuring its in-memory database technology, which SAP says will allow its customers to achieve real real-time business scale. The situation at SAP is complicated a bit by its lack of a hardware business, although SAP might well describe that as an advantage rather than a complication—it's free to play the field and strike the best possible deals it can with every hardware company on the planet.

Hewlett-Packard's probably the most-likely partner for SAP, although SAP's powerful and long-time partnership with IBM is very likely to extend into this data-intensive area as well. Some might say that IBM's intense focus on business analytics and predictive analytics could put it on a collision course with SAP, but all of the big companies mentioned above have in recent years become quite adroit at waving a knife at each other with the right hand while offering a box of chocolates with the other.

Of course, as Fowler sees it, the Oracle approach of collaboratively engineered systems—from the silicon that runs the servers to the software code deep within end-to-end enterprise applications—will be the winner:

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