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2/16/2010
08:37 AM
Bob Evans
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Larry Ellison's Stunning High-Tech Sailing Triumph

Although the only thing I know about sailing is that when you throw up you shouldn't do it into the wind, it has been fascinating to read about the unprecedented innovations Oracle CEO Larry Ellison brought to his high-tech sailboat that recently thrashed Ellison's rivals from Team Alinghi and brought the America's Cup home. Here are a few highlights.

Although the only thing I know about sailing is that when you throw up you shouldn't do it into the wind, it has been fascinating to read about the unprecedented innovations Oracle CEO Larry Ellison brought to his high-tech sailboat that recently thrashed Ellison's rivals from Team Alinghi and brought the America's Cup home. Here are a few highlights.From a Bloomberg.com article:

--"Ellison has taken the America's Cup into the third millennium, Jacques Taglang, who has written a history of the boats used since 1851, said in an interview. "It may never be the same again."

--"What a machine," James Spithill, who steered the boat and received data on its weight loads via an electronic visor, told reporters. "To the boat builders and designers, hats off to them. They won it for us."

--Employing dozens of designers, Ellison's team this time outfoxed Alinghi with its wing sail, which is bigger than that of any passenger jet. The structure, whose airline-style flaps were controlled by remote, had less drag than Alinghi's traditional sail and powered ahead. The hulls on its trimaran lifted as much as 12 meters into the air as it skimmed the water.

And from a San Jose Mercury article:

--"He is perhaps the most aggressive CEO in the tech industry today," said Jon Fisher, a former Oracle vice president who now teaches business at the University of San Francisco. Fisher added that Oracle, a company that vies with such giants as Microsoft and IBM, is both highly competitive and ruthlessly "engineering-centric," even compared with other tech firms.

--USA-17 was built with bleeding-edge technical features that helped it skim the ocean at speeds up to 40 knots (46 mph). It has an unusual three-hulled design, made from carbon fiber and topped with a towering 223-foot "wing sail," a rigid structure like an oversized airplane wing that is controlled by nine adjustable flaps.

And the Merc article has some terrific graphics detailing the revolutionary designs employed by Ellison's team, including one showing that USA-17's sail is bigger than one of the wings of an Airbus A380.

And here's a two-minute video clip of Ellison's trimaran in action, affording some striking perspectives on what is indeed an extraordinary machine.

What's all of this have to do with enterprise software? Well, you could say not much at all. Or, you could see this as an example of the type of breakthrough that a deeply motivated leader can deliver-and since Ellison has shown he can become the best in the world with a highly complex, technically advanced, and intensely competitive racing machine, he surely won't hold back in any way in pursuing his stated quest to compete against and outdo IBM in integrated IT systems.

It's a terrifically tall order, and one that IBM will meet with intense focus to complement its long history of leadership in the field. But Ellison's achievement with USA-17 in winning the America's Cup should prove to everyone that any challenge that man makes should be taken very seriously.

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