Oracle SPARC Server Road Map Holds Promise, Challenges, Analysts Say

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2010-08-11

Oracle SPARC Server Road Map Holds Promise, Challenges, Analysts Say

Oracle officials' discussion Aug. 10 of their plans for Sun Microsystems' enterprise hardware offerings was an important step in getting the company seen as a player in the competitive high-end server space, according to analysts.

Six months after closing the $7.4 billion purchase of Sun, Oracle executives began to give the industry a glimpse of the future for the company's newly acquired SPARC servers.

"It is important to get that story out," Jean Bozman, an analyst with IDC, said in an interview with eWEEK. "They really hadn't said anything about it before, and that changed today."

During a Webcast with journalists and analysts, John Fowler, who came over from Sun in the acquisition and is executive vice president of systems for Oracle, outlined an ambitious road map for the high-end systems. For example, Oracle will double the performance of the SPARC systems every other year through 2015, and servers will scale to 128 cores, 16,384 threads and 64TB of memory during that time.

Oracle also will roll out Solaris 11-the first major release of the operating system since Sun launched Solaris 10 six years ago-in 2011, and the OS will scale to thousands of processor threads and tens of terabytes of memory, according to Fowler.

In addition, he said Sun would focus its efforts in the x86 world on Intel processors, moving away for the time being from chips from Advanced Micro Devices.

While some areas went unaddressed-for example, the future of the SPARC64 development partnership with Fujitsu-what was important was that Oracle finally showed customers and the rest of the industry that a road map was in place, Bozman said.

Sales of SPARC systems have suffered since Oracle first announced its interest in buying Sun in 2009, and Bozman said rival Hewlett-Packard earlier this year had talked about future plans for its Itanium-based Integrity servers, while IBM was moving aggressively forward with its Power7 road map.

Competitive pressures meant that Oracle had to start revealing more specifics, she said.

"This is a good step in being as public [about Oracle's plans] as they were today," Bozman said. "I don't think they've lacked plans for the systems. ... They just haven't spoken as much about it as they could have."

Oracle Races to Catch Up


Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, said Oracle is in a difficult position. Normal product cycles usually run 12 to 24 months, and it has only been six months since Oracle closed the deal on Sun. Meanwhile, its competitors already are pushing ahead with product plans that have been under way for years in some instances.

King pointed to Oracle's focus on workload-optimized systems. The company plans to hit that part of the industry hard by the end of the year or in 2011, he said. However, IBM has been selling such systems for more than a year already.

"The market for workload-optimized systems is still pretty new," King said. "The problem for Oracle is that it's getting more and more crowded."

Every major vendor is getting into it, he said, either with its own offerings, as IBM has, or through collaborations, such as the alliance between Cisco Systems, EMC and VMware.

"It makes sense for them to go there, but given the ... acquisition, they're going to get there a day late," King said. "We'll just have to see if they'll be a dollar short."

Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64, said Oracle is moving in the right direction with Sun, and the fact that executives are now able to talk about a road map that stretches out to 2015 is important.

Oracle also has brought greater stability to a Sun hardware business that had appeared to take off in multiple directions, Brookwood said. The company has pared projects that showed little chance of making money and simplified the process for developing SPARC chips, and is focusing on two lines of SPARC servers, the T and M series, he said. All this is important for everyone else in the Oracle server development team, from the Solaris engineers to application developers.

"They now have a story here that kind of holds together better than it did in the olden days," Brookwood said. "It's a lot more credible and coherent than what I'd been hearing during the [ex-Sun CEO] Jonathan Schwartz era."

Now that Oracle executives can talk about road maps and projects, the key challenge will be execution, he said. If Oracle can bring products to market on time, and with the type of performance that's being promised, that will go a long way in giving the company the credibility it needs to compete in the space.

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