Opinion Larry Ellison's closing Oracle OpenWorld keynote told customers to stop buying best-of-breed, cobbled-together IT systems; just buy a complete Oracle stack-in-a-box.
Of course, if you want to run your Oracle software on Dell, HP or IBM servers with EMC or NetApp storage that's fine; you can do that, but just don't expect the resulting system to be as simple, as reliable or as fast as Oracle's all-in-one-box job. Says Larry.
Oracle's ebullient and very competitive CEO said: "Our strategy is very simple: take a lot of separate pieces that our customers used to buy as components, and take those pieces and do pre-integration, the software pieces and the hardware pieces. Let's get those pieces integrated together and deliver you complete working systems like Exadata and Exalogic. We think that will make … our customers' lives simpler… [with a product that] works first day, that's reliable, secure, fast, that's cost-effective."
Ellison singled out iconic consumer IT products like the iPhone and iPad as the model to use, not the mainframe as one might have thought: "Steve Jobs is my best friend. I love him dearly ... I watch very closely what he does over at Apple. … He's believed for a long time that if you engineer the hardware and software together, the overall user experience is better than if you just do a part of the solution."
This is the iPhone, iPad approach to enterprise IT, a fenced garden of integrated delights that does things better, that has a better ownership experience, than the collected best-of-breed pieces enterprise IT is largely built from today.
Ellison is not just rejecting the approach whereby customers or system houses integrate selected best of breed pieces into a finished enterprise IT system; he's rejecting the whole external storage model which has been espoused by server systems vendors as well as external storage vendors. Dell, HP and IBM have their own externally-attached block access arrays and filers, and this makes it easy for EMC, HDS, NetApp BlueARc, Isilon, Compellent and others to slot their products into Dell, HP or IBM server-based IT set-ups.
Enterprise IT Americas Cup
Ellison wants none of it. He wants, as he has always done, that Oracle should ship as much of the IT stack below Oracle's application and database software as possible, so that a greater proportion of a customer's IT spend goes to Redwood Shores. The initial approach to this was to push the use of commodity IT components for servers and operating systems as a platform and so move customers off higher-priced proprietary server and O/S combinations from HP, IBM and others. Now it has moved on to Oracle owning and shipping its own middle ware, operating system, server and storage hardware. It's using its $4bn research and development spend to integrate all the pieces and build a Ferrari of an IT stack-in-a-box while its competitors build Ford Crown Victorias.
In effect Oracle has re-invented the mainframe as a tightly coupled and incredibly scalable set of application software, middleware, virtualised operating system and virtualised storage in a clustered set of racks that should perform very well indeed. Ellison wants the America's Cup crown of enterprise IT. He wants to build such an incredible IT boat that customers will flock to float it.
He's doing this using a bought-in Sun server, storage and minor networking, business, that has jewels in its crown but whose crown lost a lot of lustre during the years of Jonathan Schwartz' stewardship. It's going to take time and he's pissing off partners like Dell, HP, EMC and NetApp on whose systems customers run an awfully large number of Oracle databases.
Centralise - distribute - centralise cycle
They are all involved in their own stack-in-a-box initiatives, with HP arguably leading - it simply has more of the pieces in-house - which they can sell into their own customer bases. Some observers say there is nothing new here. IT has always operated on a centralise-distribute-centralise-distribute cycle - and the mainframe gave way to distributed systems with these now starting to give way to a reinvented mainframe integrating distributed systems elements.
Okay, but so what? Where does that leave external storage vendors? Effectively it leaves them out in the cold, having to ally with part-system vendors to build stack-in-a-box lookalikes. Oracle will lose no time in saying that VCE, the VMware Cisco EMC coalition, is just that, a coalition, and simply cannot react as fast, as decisively and as continuously, a key, key, aspect, as Oracle can. Or, we might note, as well as Dell, HP and IBM can when they put their shoulders to their own stack-in-a-box IT wheels.
They each have their own in-house storage and O/S and server operations and don't need external suppliers. They'll push an open, message, warning customers not to get locked in to Oracle but, as they are busy developing their own walled-in IT gardens while saying they use industry-stand interfaces, such warnings will be weakened.
Hopeless IT mess
Yes, Oracle is pushy and pricy and its CEO is a a man of apparently gargantuan competitiveness who over-eagerly shoots from the hip, but look at what he has done. In truth Michael Dell, Sam Palmisano, Joe Tucci, John Chambers and Tom Georgens and whoever gets the HP top job all know Ellison is right. They're all at it, building their own stack-in-a-box or working out how to become part of someone else's.
Apple and Oracle are right. They believe walled IT gardens have better IT flowers than open meadows and they think, they really do, that customers want 'em because it's the only way to take the ghastly, costly, hopeless mess that is corporate IT, put it behind layers of virtualising abstraction, and make it do what it should be doing with the minimum of fuss; run corporate applications simply, reliably, fast and cost-effectively.
The golden years of externally-attached storage may be drawing to a close. Vendors of such better start preparing to get inside a walled IT stack garden via acquisition or OEM arrangements, or go look for real secure and defensible market niches. ®