Oracle Cited for Ads Comparing SPARC T5, IBM Power Systems

An advertising oversight group is reporting Oracle’s advertising campaign comparing its new server with IBM systems to the FTC.

Oracle has been keeping its focus on IBM since buying Sun Microsystems and its SPARC hardware business in 2010.

Over the past three years, when Oracle has rolled out its engineered systems, such as its Exadata database machine that optimizes the hardware with Oracle's database software, officials have used IBM as the foil, usually detailing significant performance gains over Big Blue.

Some of those comparisons have gotten the giant enterprise software maker into trouble with the National Advertising Division (NAD)—an oversight body for the advertising agency—which three times in 2012 investigated Oracle for what the group has said were "overbroad and unsupported" comparisons between one Oracle product and an IBM offering.

In those instances, IBM complained and in July 2012, Oracle agreed to yank ads for Exadata that claimed the database system was 20 times faster than IBM's Power systems. Earlier that year, NAD—a unit of the Better Business Bureau—found a similar problem with Oracle's claim that its SPARC Supercluster T4-4 hardware ran Java and Oracle twice as fast as IBM's fastest computer.

Now the NAD is back with a complaint over new Oracle advertising that the group is forwarding to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

According to an Aug. 1 statement from NAD officials, Oracle has not made a "good faith effort to comply with the recommendations of previous NAD decisions," as evidence by recent ads for the company's new SPARC T5 systems. In those ads, Oracle officials say that the SPARC T5 offers 2.6 times the performance of a system powered by a Power7 chip and running AIX, IBM's Unix operating system.

In a statement, NAD officials note that the ad was too narrow—comparing one particular SPARC T5 configuration to another particular system configuration powered by the Power7+ chips and running AIX—to support the claim, and that the "advertising in question features the same stark, overbroad IBM-versus-Oracle comparison that NAD recommended against in the three previous cases."

IBM initiated the complaint with NAD, and a spokesman has told reporters that the company is pleased that NAD is forwarding it to the FTC. In a release to journalists, an Oracle spokesperson is quoted as saying the company disagrees with the decision.

"The ad provides a clear and objective comparison between an IBM Power7+ AIX system and an Oracle SPARC T5 system using industry-standard benchmark results that legitimately show 2.6x better performance by the Oracle system. NAD has failed to take into account the sophistication of the ad's target audience, namely businesses that purchase enterprise hardware systems," the spokesperson said.

When Oracle executives unveiled the SPARC T5 and M5 chips and servers in March, they said the products surpassed IBM's offerings in such areas as performance and energy efficiency. CEO Larry Ellison said the eight-socket T5-8 was the fastest single system in the world and offered price-performance advantages of 2.5 to 12 times over comparable IBM Power systems.

"When Oracle bought Sun, a lot of people said, 'Gee, the SPARC [processor] was a laggard. It will never catch up,'" Ellison said in a press conference at the time. "We did catch up, and we passed [competitors]."