Oracle challenges IBM with 'Sparc Supercluster'

CEO Larry Ellison will be talking up Oracle's hardware efforts again at a launch event Thursday afternoon

By , IDG News Service |  Hardware

Oracle is working hard to build up Sun's hardware business, which suffered during Oracle's long wait to get its Sun acquisition approved by regulators. Despite initial doubts about Oracle's commitment to selling hardware, it has spelled out a five-year road map for Sparc and now seems committed to the platform.

Oracle's strategy is to sell large, pre-configured systems, like the Exalogic Elastic Cloud and its Exadata Database Machine, which it says perform better and are easier to set up than when customers choose their own hardware and software.

Oracle's approach is a valid one but it's unclear yet how many customers will buy into the model, said industry analyst Dan Olds of Gabriel Consulting. A trade-off is that customers have less flexibility to use "best of breed" products, he noted.

The Exalogic cloud system, the Exadata database and the new Supercluster have plenty of overlapping components, which could create challenges for Oracle's sales and marketing teams. But IDC analyst Jean Bozman said they're configured for different types of work.

"The Exalogic system is positioned as a 'cloud in a box.' The idea is that you can support different tiers of computing, so for the Web-enablement tier you can have an application server and some kind of hand-off to a database or an application. Exadata is meant to do very large database processing, the OLTP and business intelligence type of workloads, so that would be more of a back-end server," she said.

Bozman said it's a good time for Unix customers. There's a lot of price competition, because the vendors are battling for a declining portion of the overall server market, and each of the big vendors has now refreshed its Unix system lineups.

Unix server revenue declined 9 percent year over year in the third quarter, even though server sales overall were up a healthy 13 percent, according to new figures from IDC. While the high and low ends of the Unix market contracted, systems in the middle, priced from US$25,000 to $250,000, saw some growth, Bozman said.

"If you're replacing older Unix systems you can get a lot for your money, there's intense competition right now," she said.

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