Do benchmarks get even less meaningful in an era of engineered systems optimized for specific tasks?
Oracle's comparisons of its T4 Servers and SuperCluster product to IBM Power 7 products are off base, and its claims about hardware and software working together are misleading because software isn't actually included in so-called engineered systems. That's the gist of a top IBM executive's reaction to Oracle slams over the last two week.
IBM seldom comments on competitive claims, but Bernard Spang, director of strategy and marketing for database software and systems, told InformationWeek Oracle's comparisons with IBM Power 7 systems "don't line up" with reality.
It was hard enough in the old days to decipher benchmarks and figure out apples-to-apples comparisons at the server level. Spang had more to say about the two industry-standard benchmarks that Oracle did site, as I detail below. But in the blended hardware-and-software era we're headed into -- described as "engineered systems" by Oracle and "optimized systems" by IBM -- it's going to be even harder to compare what vendors have to offer.
These single-stack systems are supposed to make things easier from a deployment, configuration, maintenance, and service perspective. But from a comparative buying perspective, it's going to be next to impossible to compare purpose-built systems to general-purpose building blocks. It's also going to be very hard to know whether these systems are living up to vendor-defined performance claims.
You might choose these systems because you're committed to using certain applications or you might be attracted to the idea of consolidating and standardizing underlying hardware and infrastructure. Either way, single stacks basically put you in the position of having to trust the vendor -- unless, that is, you are actually doing some degree of proof-of-concept testing.
One of Oracle's key engineered systems appeals is that its software will run best on Oracle hardware. But the irony is that Exadata, Exalogic, and Sparc SuperCluster are shipped without software. The only thing preinstalled on the Sparc SuperCluster, for example, is the Solaris 10 or 11 operating system, Oracle VM virtualization software, and simple diagnostic software. Oracle software such as Oracle Database, Fusion Middleware and applications are certified to run on the hardware and there are recommended configurations, but purchase and installation of that software is up to the customer.
IBM takes a different approach with its optimized systems, Spang points out, shipping and pricing its products complete with software installed and configured for the intended workload. The vendor's list of optimized systems includes IBM Netezza TwinFin Appliances, which include the database and analytic software; IBM Smart Analytic Systems, which include the database, InfoSphere data management software, and Cognos business intelligence software; WebSphere DataPower appliances that include SOA middleware; and InfoSphere Guardium appliances that include database monitoring and security software.
In a challenge to Oracle's e-commerce marketshare, which is built on thousands of legacy Sparc server and ATG commerce software deployments, IBM recently announced a Smarter Commerce on Power 7 System. IBM says the workload-optimized system sustains the high Web site and mobile device page-loading workloads e-commerce sites face during the Christmas season and peak days such as Black Friday.
IBM also touts the Smarter Commerce system's built-in analytic capabilities as able to serve up the right content and best offers based on a customer's site entry point, search terms used, past purchase behavior, and navigation path during an individual Web session.
IBM did not disclose the cost of the Smarter Commerce on Power 7 system, but it includes the Power 7 server shipped with WebSphere Commerce 7 e-commerce software, IBM WebSphere application server software and the IBM DB2 database preinstalled and preconfigured. Thus I'm guessing it would be a much faster deployment than, say, buying Sparc SuperCluster and then adding database, middleware, and ATG commerce software.
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