Oracle recasts Sun Sparc in its own image

Alex Barrett

Oracle Corp.’s new Sparc servers may have some Sun Microsystems shops thinking that the company is committed to the platform. But others said the new supercluster and Exalogic Elastic Cloud appliance are not reason enough to stick with the Sparc platform over the long term.

 

Critics see the new servers, announced last week, as a self-serving retreat into Oracle-centric technologies. They are built on the in-house-built Sparc T3 microprocessor and optimized for -- you guessed it -- Oracle applications.

The Sparc Supercluster is a general-purpose server bundle that excels at running Oracle database real application clusters (RACs); and the Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud is designed for running Java middleware, such as Oracle Fusion.

At the same time, Oracle extended its relationship with Fujitsu, which had been a question mark. Fujitsu designs and manufactures the Sparc64 processor and associated M-Series servers, Sun’s traditional online transaction processing workhorses. Fujitsu announced the new Sparc64 VII+ quad-core processors, which will slot into existing Oracle Sun M-Series boxes for in-place upgrades. Further, the two companies will announce new co-branded M-Series models in the future, they said.

Sun shops heading for the exits?
A lack of strategic technology investments, combined with rough handling of customers, has prompted many former Sun shops to move, said a mid-Atlantic IT integrator that works with Sun and other vendors.

“Most of our clients are still on the path to move away from legacy Sun platforms,” he said, citing severe “dissatisfaction with Oracle’s handling of the Sun situation.” For example, Oracle abruptly terminated two storage platforms, “reinforcing the marketplace perception that Oracle will run roughshod over customer requirements.”

For one large Northeastern utility provider, the combination of Oracle’s business practices combined with appealing alternatives from IBM was enough to begin the migration from Sparc servers.

“It was a combination of things,” the CTO said. “Price and performance, scalability, and the sense that IBM was certainly pushing the pace forward, versus Oracle that was canceling chip projects and playing games with maintenance. It was the right time to take a look at System p, because the economy’s not so wonderful that you’re going to overpay for something that’s not so great.”

Oracle is as Oracle does
Indeed, while Oracle announced the new servers with much pomp and circumstance (complete with a world record TPC-C benchmark), objectively, the T3-based Sparc Supercluster and Exalogic Elastic Cloud are little more than packaging exercises, taking existing technologies (the T3 chips and servers announced in September) and configuring and testing them to run certified Oracle applications.

[There is a] marketplace perception that Oracle will run roughshod over customer requirements.

IT integrator, mid-Atlantic region

“They can point to packages and say, ‘Yes, we’re committed.’ But the investments Oracle has made have not been very deep,” said Jonathan Eunice, principal IT adviser at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. “It’s easy to do packaging, but it’s less easy to do core engineering.”

And while Oracle may continue to have short-term success with Sun systems, the long-term success of the platform remains in question.

“The thing with legacy businesses is that they have a large financial center of gravity and a lot of momentum, and it takes a long time for an object in motion to slow down,” Eunice said.

But for IT professionals making strategic platform decisions, “They have to choose where they want to be five or 10 years from now. If they look at x86 [servers], they’re pretty sure that it will still be rocking and rolling 10 years from now. Power [servers] may have been iffy in the ’90s, but since then IBM has consistently delivered a credible product with every new update. Everything else,” Eunice said, “is suspect.”

While Oracle execs up to and including CEO Larry Ellison have pledged rich R&D investment in both the Sun Sparc and the Solaris operating system, Oracle’s handling of these franchises since buying Sun Microsystems last January has not quelled anxiety about the technologies’ future.

Statistics are mixed. Recently Gartner Inc. reported that for the third quarter of 2010, Oracle/Sun was the only major server maker to see its market share decline compared with the same period a year ago. During that time span, Gartner said Oracle/Sun server revenue, declined 2.4% to 6.2% from 7.4% while Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dell and Fujitsu revenue grew. Another researcher, IDC, paints a different picture, reporting that Oracle/Sun server revenue actually grew 0.9% for that period.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director at abarrett@techtarget.com, or follow @aebarrett on twitter.

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