Much to the relief of some Sun customers, Oracle is trying to show that Sun hardware has a future.
The company's newly announced Exadata "database machine" pairs key Oracle software with Sun hardware.
Tied up in European regulatory issues, Oracle Corp.'s $7.4 billion buyout of Sun Microsystems Inc. may not close till January. The fact that the deal, announced last spring, is still pending has many Sun users in limbo, wondering what would happen to their preferred hardware platform.
In recent months, Oracle/Sun rivals IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. used that uncertainty to woo Sun hardware and Solaris customers. Oracle responded with a recent ad in the Wall Street Journal touting plans to spend more money on Sparc and Solaris than Sun alone was doing.
Bill Bradford, a senior systems administrator at an energy services firm in Houston who also runs the Sun news and reference site SunHelp.org, said that more dollars for these offerings should relieve Sun users' anxieties.
"I think they can put a solid plan behind Sparc and Solaris, while Sun has sort of waffled and wavered over the past few years," Bradford said about Oracle. "Oracle is good at roadmaps and, usually, at staying on the road."
Richard Newman, president and cofounder of New York-based data security company Reliant Security, agreed, adding that there had been so little direct messaging from Oracle on the acquisition that it was making some Sun customers, including them, nervous.
"There had been rumors for a while that Sun was going to be purchased, and many of the leading candidates – IBM and Cisco, Fujitsu – some of those you sit down and that's a better candidate that would look to strategically look to do more with OpenSolaris," Newman said. "So we didn't think Oracle was the best-case scenario."
Dumping HP, going with Sun
This week, Oracle announced what is essentially a database appliance, the second version of its Exadata product. The first iteration, introduced last year, Oracle software on an HP ProLiant box. With the new Exadata, Oracle dumped HP in favor of Sun. In a presentation, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison boasted that the machine performs data warehousing and online transaction processing (OLTP).
Ellison also made plenty of digs at IBM, saying an equivalent Power 595 server from IBM would cost four times as much for the same performance.
The older HP-based Exadata machine did not appear to have much traction. On a conference call in March, Oracle execs mentioned two unnamed accounts, including a large European retailer, that were trying the machine, but other than that, there is no sign of commercial use of the box. Price may have been an issue. Oracle listed the product for $1.6 million -- although, as Ellison noted at the time, Oracle sales reps are notorious for discounting to make a sale.
A source close to HP said there were fewer than a dozen Exadatas in the wild, with companies doing proof-of-concept testing.
With the Sun-built Exadata machine, there is an entry price point as low as $110,000.
Newman said he was more reassured by the Exadata announcement than the Oracle advertisement. To him, it means that Oracle will do more than just "cannibalize" the asset they're buying in Sun.
"They made a major change to a relationship," he said regarding Exadata. "They spent a lot of money on that relationship with HP, and now they're walking away from that. That is much more substantial than the ad."
Bradford said the announcement signals that Oracle is ready to start "eating its own dog food" and that it indicates that Oracle may have scrapped plans to sell certain parts of Sun's hardware business to HP.
Several large Oracle integration partners said they fully expect the company to follow through on vague promises to launch vertical-industry-specific hardware appliances, pre-loading database, middleware and specific application software on Sun hardware.
What about HP customers running Oracle? Can they expect to see support from Oracle start to freefall? Bradford thinks not.
"I suspect that Oracle will provide the same level of support to HP and other non-Oracle-hardware customers that it does now, but for shops that want to buy everything from the same vendor, they're more than happy to oblige," he said.
Barbara Darrow contributed to this report.