Dell And Ellison Reach Data-Center Deal

Partnership pushes Linux, but managing large clusters might be tricky
Michael Dell and Larry Ellison have been working for more than two years to bring Oracle9i database software to Dell servers running Linux. The two executives took the stage together last week in New York to tout the latest development in that relationship and highlight other areas in which their companies will work together to try to increase their presence in data centers.

The CEOs of Dell Computer and Oracle are expanding their companies' ties in three ways. First, they'll sell two-processor and four-processor Dell PowerEdge servers and storage clusters, starting at $18,000, that run Red Hat Linux or Microsoft Windows along with Oracle9i Database with Real Application Clusters. Second, they're extending global sales agreements to Europe and Asia. And third, they're jointly offering fixed-price services to migrate customers from competing database platforms to Oracle on Dell servers paired with EMC storage. (A 10-day migration project to Oracle9i costs about $35,000.)


Running applications on one database server creates a "single point of failure," says Oracle's Ellison (left), with Dell.
"If you run applications on a single database server, it becomes a single point of failure," says Ellison, whose proposed solution is clustering x86 database servers rather than building a single system on more-costly RISC architecture. "If you want higher performance," Ellison quips, "you have to be willing to spend less." But this strategy wasn't practical prior to the introduction of Oracle's 9i Real Application Clusters. "The database is really considered the choke point" of the data center, says Dell, who contends clustered server environments also will let companies scale up more quickly if there's an economic rebound.

Dell and Oracle tout Linux as a reliable way to cut data-center costs. Customers such as Menasha Corp., a holding company in the plastics and packaging materials business, agree. Menasha runs 90% of its server workload on Dell PowerEdge servers and has standardized on Linux since 2000. Intel-based servers and open-source software lowered data-center costs 22%, says Menasha CIO Edward Wojciechowski. But other Dell-Oracle customers aren't ready for Linux. Domino's Pizza's U.K. operation runs Microsoft Windows 2000 on Dell servers, switches, and end-user systems. Domino's IS director Marc Halpern says Microsoft software falls short in load balancing, but he won't change because the licenses are paid for.

There's a weak spot in the partnership that Dell and Ellison didn't talk about: how companies will efficiently manage large, clustered server environments. "Dell's got nothing when you want to move from 50 to 500 Linux servers," says Frank Gillett, a principal analyst with Forrester Research. Dell won't necessarily want its customers using IBM Tivoli or Hewlett-Packard OpenView management software because it gives competing hardware vendors a foot in the door, Gillett says. Microsoft has data-center plans--its recently announced Dynamic Systems Initiative--but it doesn't address heterogeneous environments that include Linux.

Dell executives know they must continue developing the company's OpenManage suite of management software to handle large, heterogeneous deployments. In the meantime, the company points customers to systems-management software partners such as Opsware Inc. and Veritas Software Corp.

Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News/Landov

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