Oracle: Forward-Thinking or Stuck in the '80s?

Loraine Lawson

Since the Sun acquisition, Oracle's Larry Ellison has lead the charge on changing Oracle's message: It's no longer about the software. It's about the integration of hardware and software.


More precisely, it's about the integration of hardware, software, made easier by standardizing on one vendor, namely Oracle.


As you might expect, Oracle's competitors aren't going to take that lying down. In a recent InformationWeek article by Bob Evans, they came out swinging in some unexpected ways.


You might think this would come down to the whole benefits of integration versus best-of-breed solutions, but it doesn't. It's more interesting than that, and, as Evans keenly observes, it suggests we can expect these big vendors-once so similar-to soon offer very different solutions, approaches, even philosophies.


For instance, SAP's chief technology officer, Vishal Sikka Sikka, contends that Oracle's one-stack philosophy and Exadata machines are a throwback to the 1980s:

The real value will come in rethinking the stack, which is precisely what we are doing and these giant stacks completely miss that. ... There is an unbelievable cost-benefit to in-memory computing that customer after customer is telling us they're discovering as they find ways they can simply wipe out big layers of the stack because you don't need to make that long and expense round-trip from transactional systems to the database to do the analytics and then back again.

Oracle contends that its approach is what integration-weary CIOs want. With Ellison leading the charge, its pitch has been that one vendor, using open standards, can offer any number of benefits and solve a slew of common IT headaches, including:

  • Better testing
  • Quicker identification of bugs
  • Security concerns
  • Less patching, tuning, monitoring, etc., and, of course
  • Easier integration


It's a strong argument, and one that worked well for Microsoft for two decades. As I've said before, the ugly truth is that you can solve many, if not all, of your integration woes by standardizing on one vendor-but you pay a price in other ways.


Even so, IBM counters that the integration and life-made-easier argument won't pay off for Oracle and cites its own service program, which handles Oracle implementations, as proof.


IBM group executive and Senior Vice President Steve Mills told Evans that while CIOs do want fewer integration headaches and all the things Oracle's touting, they also want to avoid vendor lock-in. They've learned-often the hard way-that vendor lock-in can mean price hikes and a loss of control, particularly during negotiations.


Mills says companies don't trust Oracle in particular to have their best interest at heart:

Customers will also tell you that they don't want to give Oracle pricing power - they don't view Oracle as a friendly company to do business with. They view their contracting and their licensing terms and their charging mechanisms and their up-charging and their embedded-feature charging, which is not always visible when you buy a product, and their maintenance policies and so on, all to be fairly onerous.

Ouch. The gloves are off, folks. This could be IT's equivalent of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey." The good news: It could open up more options for the Real Working Stiffs of IT. Let's hope so.

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