McNealy discounts Ellison's big server death comments

Sun Microsystems and Oracle are still traveling in the same direction despite comments in January from the chief of Oracle that the company sees the days of large computer systems coming to an end, Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems chairman and chief executive officer, said Thursday.

Larry Ellison, Oracle's chief executive officer, told financial analysts in late January that the company plans to replace three-year old Hewlett-Packard Co. Unix servers with clusters of Intel-based machines running Linux. The Oracle chief also predicted the demise of large servers. "It will be several years before the big machine dies," he said, "but inevitably the big machine will die."

The comments exposed a possible conflict with Sun, a long time ally and major vendor of powerful servers. The two companies have a joint development initiative and work together to try to persuade users of Microsoft SQL Server on Windows NT to switch to an Oracle database running on Sun's Unix-based operating system, Solaris.

McNealy, speaking at a briefing for reporters in Tokyo, said Larry Ellison told him in a telephone conversation that he had been misquoted.

"I can't find anybody else inside of Oracle that is saying that and I don't think Larry means what he is being quoted as saying, at least he said to me two weeks ago on the phone, 'I've been misquoted,'" McNealy said. "I would say 95 percent of Larry's revenue is coming on very large single-instance, vertically-scaled SMP (symmetrical multiprocessing) machines and is significantly at risk if that revenue went away so I would not take that statement very literally. He certainly isn't."

Adding that he had not been able to find any systems architects who believed large servers are on their way out, McNealy said that doesn't mean Sun is discounting such Linux-based clusters. Several times he spoke of Sun's Cobalt server appliances, small machines that run Linux.

"Oracle and Sun couldn't be any more aligned today," he said.

Asked if Ellison had explained what he intended by the remarks, McNealy said, "He said we believe there will be a horizontal scaling architecture and he knows he is going to be selling, certainly through the end of his career, very large single-instance implementations both in the database and applications environment. I'll be very surprised if he retires after there is a complete transition to horizontal computing. It just won't happen."

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