Ellison Challenges HP, IBM with New SPARC Cluster

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2010-12-02

Ellison Challenges HP, IBM with New SPARC Cluster

SANTA CLARA, Calif.-Leave it to Larry Ellison to "sparc up" what at first was looking like a pretty standard, no-nonsense product launch.

During Oracle's introduction of a slew of new data center products, the co-founder and CEO of the world's second-largest software-making company took several sort-of-playful jabs Dec. 2 at one of his most formidable competitors. And this time it wasn't IBM.

On stage at the 1940s-era auditorium on Sun Microsystems' old Agnews campus, Ellison put up a series of slides showing how much faster he claims the latest Oracle Sun SPARC cluster is compared with IBM's Power7 and Hewlett-Packard's Itanium 2-based Superdome supercomputer clusters.

"If these computers were animals, what kind of animals would they be?" Ellison said in comparing benchmarked transaction processing speeds of each of those companies' fastest systems.

As the ensuing slides came up-indicating Oracle's Sun SPARC super-cluster can perform at a whopping 30 million transactions per minute, IBM's at 10 million per minute and HP's at 4 million per minute-Ellison slyly displayed pictures of a cheetah next to the Oracle logo, a racehorse next to IBM's and a turtle next to HP's.

Laughs and giggles were heard from the standing-room-only audience of several hundred Oracle partners, customers, staff members and media/analyst folks.

"So we're one big cheetah, IBM's a stallion, and HP's a turtle," Ellison said. "Make no mistake: We think the HP machines are slow, they're vulnerable in the marketplace, and we're going to go after them-with better hardware, better software and better people.

"We're going to win market share against those guys-in the database business, the middleware business, the server business and the storage business, because we have better products."

Oracle, HP in complicated relationship

Oracle, like most IT companies in cooperative/competitive situations, has a complicated relationship with HP. Prior to Oracle's January 2010 acquisition of Sun, the two companies had worked together for years, selling into large clients in government, defense, scientific and other high-end IT systems.

However, now that Oracle is in the data center hardware, software and services businesses-as well as the supercomputing business-with all of its Sun properties, that relationship with HP has become very strained, to say the least. Suffice to say that Oracle isn't co-selling into large accounts anymore with HP providing its servers, storage, networking and services.

Still, there are a high number of HP-Oracle deployments in operation globally that require-and will continue to require for years-cooperation between the two companies, no matter how acrimonious the larger corporate relationship gets.

Ellison, as has been his modus operandi for years, is again going to great lengths to pooh-pooh his competitors, and now HP has eclipsed IBM to receive the brunt of his criticism.

In fact, Ellison complimented IBM on its P7 cluster. A year ago, when he was bad-mouthing IBM at every opportunity, he never would have said the following, as he did Dec. 2:

"IBM has a good product [with the P7]; what can I say? It has an excellent chip. They have smart guys working there, the PowerPC guys.  But nonetheless, we beat them 3 to 1 in throughput, and in better price performance.

"But the most shocking number of all is response time. We're three times better in response time. Our [average] response time was less than half a second, for all these millions of transactions."

SPARC-Powered Exalogic Cloud Server


SPARC-powered Exalogic cloud server

Oracle's primary purpose Dec. 2 was to announce a new Exalogic cloud computing system powered by SPARC chips and running Solaris to go alongside its Intel x86 version, demonstrated at OracleWorld in September.

The SPARC Exalogic is the new middleware platform for cloud systems; Exadata is the SPARC database server. Oracle isn't shy about claiming that they're both the fastest in the world at what they do.

At OracleWorld, Ellison and Chief Hardware Executive John Fowler showed the x86 Exalogic as a 30-server, 360-core system that companies can use to run their own private clouds in a single rack. On Dec. 2, they showed two 7-foot-high SPARC racks-one Exadata and one Exalogic-on stage.

"We have been hearing about the 'Sun-set' and 'Sun-down' programs for quite some time now, but that's hardly the case. There is also a book called 'The Sun Also Rises,'" Ellison said. "We did our research, and our theme is now called the 'Sunrise' program.

"The mission-critical IT world still runs on Unix and Linux and Java: 10 of the top 10 banks, 10 of the top 10 telcos, and lots of others. SPARC Solaris and Java are still No. 1, as far as we can tell. Seventy to 80 percent of our [database and server] business is Solaris and Linux-based, and we're No. 2 on both Windows and on IBM mainframes."

HP adds its reaction to Ellison

On Dec. 3, an HP spokesperson, after reading this story, sent a corporate statement to eWEEK in response to Ellison's remarks:

"HP is the No. 1 provider of enterprise servers in the world.  We are focused on our customers, and those customers continue to be won over by our combination of technology, product performance, and pricing. The numbers prove it - our Enterprise Storage and Servers segment saw 25% revenue growth year over year during Q4 FY2010, and HP was the only major UNIX vendor that reported server growth. 

"Larry Ellison bought a money-losing business [Sun Microsystems] that had steady market share declines for years, and which still ranks at the bottom of the market. Customers aren't fooled by outdated benchmarks, no matter what Oracle says. HP's market share results prove it. Sun customers are running to HP in droves because they recognize we deliver superior technology, performance and pricing."

Editor's note: This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. Pacific time Dec. 3 to include the HP statement noted above.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison compares benchmark speeds among the Oracle Sun SPARC, IBM P7 and HP SuperDome clusters at the Dec. 2 launch event. (Photo by Chris Preimesberger, eWEEK)

Rocket Fuel