Ellison bashes Big Blue, Microsoft

Instead of describing the new features in Oracle Corp.'s 9i database, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Larry Ellison used the launch event last Thursday as a forum for taking shots at his competition, mainly IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp., about pricing issues and clustering tactics.

Aiming to price 9i more competitively with IBM, Oracle announced a new pricing structure. The database's price tag is US$40,000 per processor for the enterprise edition, and $15,000 per processor for the standard edition, regardless of speed or origin of the processor, said Rene Bonvanie, vice president, Oracle 9i marketing, in Redwood Shores, California.

Previously, Oracle had an additional charge for the megahertz speed of each processor, which analysts and customers abhorred.

IBM charges $20,000 per processor for its enterprise version and about $15,000 for the workgroup edition.

"[Oracle] brought the price down, and it now compares favorably to what they had before," said Peter Urban, an analyst at AMR Research in Boston. "They brought it down to $40,000, and that is palpable."

Ellison also argued that Oracle 9i offers a lower total cost of ownership than Microsoft and IBM. Database software ranked the third most expensive behind labor and hardware costs associated with building a total system, he said.

"Your hardware costs if you use IBM are through the roof," he said.

About the only feature Ellison bragged about is Real Applications Cluster, which enables customers to increase their scalability by stringing together servers.

With the introduction of 9i, Ellison claims Oracle has removed any doubts over the database's reliability or scalability. "For the first time we can deliver true fault tolerant system," he said, boasting that 9i in a clustering configuration offers the reliability of Tandem servers. "This is the Holy Grail of the database business."

"We can make Windows 2000 more reliable than a mainframe [using clustering]," he continued, claiming IBM has nothing to say in response.

"IBM and Microsoft will cease to be important parts of the [database] marketplace," Ellison said.

Meanwhile, Mark Jarvis, Oracle's chief marketing officer, who was on stage with Ellison, joined in on the IBM kick-fest with a quip of his own. "Codernaughts will go looking for better software, and I know where they'll go," he said.

In fact, Oracle went to the trouble of preparing a video with imitation Codernaughts from IBM's advertising campaign on Oracle's Redwood Shores, California, campus, who fell to their knees on discovery of a glowing Oracle 9i logo in the main lobby.

But IBM and Microsoft maintained that with the release of 9i, Oracle is merely catching up with technologies they already have.

"It's interesting to see [Oracle] snap into a PC-esque mindset" in terms of scalability, said Jeff Ressler, product manager for SQL Server at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash.

Ressler added that Microsoft has been using the scale-out approach, being able to add low-cost commodity servers, with SQL Server for some time now.

Ellison repeatedly referred to the competition's approach to clustering by saying "shared-nothing means run-nothing." He also shot at Microsoft and IBM for evangelizing clustered configurations for benchmarks that cannot be used to run any real applications.

In the past, Ellison publicly posted a $10 million reward for anyone that could run PeopleSoft on the clustered configuration Microsoft used for its benchmarks.

IBM's Jones, however, said that PeopleSoft runs on clusters of DB2 and, in fact, Merrill Lynch has an instance of DB2 running on a string of 32 Windows NT boxes. Siebel and SAP are also looking into IBM's approach.

"They're grossly uneducated about what shared-nothing can do, and that will be much to their detriment," Jones said. He continued that Oracle is locked in a mindset that was common in the mid-nineties, that shared-nothing was a mistake.

Despite the different clustering philosophies, the hard truth that very few customers actually run clustered instances of databases remains.

"A lot of people talk about clusters, but they're not heavily used because they are so complicated," AMR's Urban said.

In conjunction with the launch event, Oracle issued a statement heaping benchmark records for 9i used in several scenarios. Absent from those numbers, however, were results that Ellison promised in a keynote at Oracle OpenWorld, in October in San Francisco: 1 million TPC-Cs, 1 million page views per second, and the ability to support 1 million simultaneous users.

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