Global CIO: Oracle's Ellison Challenges IBM, NetApp And—Well—Everyone

Is Larry Ellison's silicon-to-application strategy the next wave, or is he 50 years out of phase?

Bob Evans, Contributor

January 28, 2010

6 Min Read

"Lately we are hearing a lot about the resurgence of 'the stack' and how as an IT vendor some companies think you have to own not just the application but also the middleware and the database and you need to own it all right down to the hardware," said Sikka.

"But we've always believed that for customers with heterogeneous environments—and that's what they all have—it's all about interoperability and helping everything work together, rather than making lots of acquisitions and buying more and more pieces and cramming it all down their customers' throats."

But Ellison—not surprisingly—takes a different view of CIO priorities in a business era requiring them to overcome two dramatically different challenges: first, to lower the cost of infrastructure to be able to liberate precious IT funds for growth-oriented projects; and second, to meet today's high-performance need for blazing speed and vast storage capacity. And it was in laying out his plan for putting those capabilities into the hands of CIOs that Ellison conjured up his 50-year-old vision of IBM's supreme reign:

"The notion of vertical integration, we think, delivers huge value to customers, giving them systems that cost less, run faster and more reliably, and are more secure. And that's our goal, and in a way it's kinda 'back to the future'—our vision for the year 2010 is the same as IBM's for the year 1960, which was to deliver a comprehensive, integrated suite of technologies," Ellison said.

"So it's not like this hasn't been done before—this was done very successfully by IBM under T.J. Watson Jr. in the '60s and that strategy, by the way, made IBM the most important company in the history of the Earth. So we kinda like that strategy, and we're gonna simply adopt it."

The key to making it work, Ellison said, is leveraging the opportunity to optimize how everything works together by coordinating the efforts across a giant engineering team working toward common purposes and goals.

"Now, in the past 50 years, a lot has happened, and technology has moved along, but still, the basic architectural notion that you can do a better job by having all the pieces being designed by one large team of engineers who talk to one another—the silicon guys talk to the operating system guys, the operating system guys talk to the database guys, the database guys talk to the silicon guys—and everyone talks to middleware and the applications guys talk to everyone so again we think that gives us a huge advantage and the proof will be in the pudding: the integrated products that we deliver to our customers."

And then came his challenges to NetApp and IBM. Describing how the former Sun 7000 has been renamed the ZFS Storage Appliance and rebuilt to optimize Oracle's software with Sun's hardware, Ellison said, "We think if you're a NetApps user, you should look at the ZFS Storage Appliance: it's kind of a next-generation NetApps box: it's faster, it costs less, it has more snapshots—orders of magnitude more snapshots capability—it's a very interesting next-generation file-serving box."

On the IBM side, Ellison said that back in April when the acquisition was announced, he pushed a project to "look at Sun's current Sparc and Solaris technology, and our current database technology, and marry them up and see how we compared to IBM's largest and fastest servers. IBM was then the record-holder in TCP database performance."

The result, he said, was that "we blew the doors off of IBM. We crushed them. In a machine that takes up less than 10% of the floor space of IBM's record-setting computer, we ran faster—a lot faster—using only a tiny fraction of the floor space, a tiny fraction of the power, and it costs less.

"And that's just an example of what we could do in the nine months from when we announced the merger until today. If we can do that in a short period of time, think of what we can do in 12 months. Or 24 months. Or 48 months. So it's gonna be very exciting."

Two thoughts on that: no big surprise that he claimed his system whipped IBM's—I mean, we didn't really expect him to say that IBM trounced the Oracle machine, did we? But the larger point is that Ellison is attempting to exert his enormous leverage to shift the balance point in customer conversations about potential vendors, and in the approaches that IT vendors take toward how they present and position themselves to increasingly demanding customers. Has he nailed it with his new integrated strategy? Or will he in turn get nailed by offering an antiquated approach to a vastly different world?

Second point: as I said at the beginning, I don't think Larry Ellison does anything by coincidence or happenstance. And so note the timeframe he expressed in his last comment: "…think of what we can do in 12 months. Or 24 months. Or 48 months. So it's gonna be very exciting." Sounds to me like anyone who was hoping that one of the world's wealthiest men who's now in his 60's might decide to spend most of his time leading the fastest sailboat on the planet is going to be very disappointed.

Game on.

RECOMMENDED READING: Global CIO: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's Top 10 Reasons For Buying Sun Global CIO: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison On The Future Of IT Global CIO: Oracle-Sun A Bad Deal? Only A Fool Would Say That Oracle Sees Unconditional EU Approval For Sun Global CIO: Why Oracle's Larry Ellison Will Tell The EU To Pound Sand IBM CEO Sam Palmisano Talks With Global CIO Global CIO: An Open Letter To Oracle CEO Larry Ellison Global CIO: Where Do Oracle's Profits Come From? Global CIO: Oracle Dumps HP After Co-Creating 'Most Successful Introduction Ever' Global CIO: Sam Palmisano's Grand Strategy For IBM Global CIO: In Oracle Vs. SAP, IBM Could Tip Balance Global CIO: Upheaval In The IT Industry: The End Of The World As We Knew It Global CIO: IBM's Game-Changing Plunge Into Predictive Analytics Global CIO: An Open Letter To Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd Global CIO: Hewlett-Packard CEO Hurd's Strategy: The Infrastructure Company GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Bob Evans


Bob Evans is senior VP, communications, for Oracle Corp. He is a former InformationWeek editor.

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