Oracle Tries to Beat Itanium to Death with a FUD Stick

Rob Enderle

Some mornings, you just have to smile at some of the antics going on in what is normally a very staid and uninteresting part of the business. Large enterprise buyers and sellers generally don't generate the drama of consumer electronics. But, over the last few months, particularly between Oracle and HP, that rule has been broken repeatedly with affairs, crazy rich-guy rants, attempts to cover up phony benchmarks and today's FUD attack on Itanium.


We've covered the Mark Hurd drama excessively, so let's just chat about the latest two Oracle moves, which could work ... if we are all idiots.


Benchmark Antics


Last year, Oracle's crazy, rich CEO blasted HP for a lot of things, but particularly on how Oracle's SuperCluster smashed HP's Superdome (Itanium) system. Oracle argued that the cost per transaction was lower, but apparently it wasn't. What was also left out was that HP had other, newer hardware that was faster and more cost efficient than Oracle's. I would imagine that you are shocked, absolutely shocked, to hear that a vendor cheated on competitive benchmarks. You may even recall that I commented that IBM said that Oracle had cheated on the benchmarks.


Now most of us know that you don't trust vendor-sourced benchmarks because vendors generally use out-of-date competitive hardware and tune the test to favor their products. I find the whole exercise a waste of time and largely counterproductive because it makes vendors look dishonest when the competitors point this out. In my IT world, trust is more important than a high score and the recent losses that Oracle/Sun have enjoyed and that I've reviewed seem to be primarily because the CIO doesn't trust what Oracle is saying about Sun's roadmap.


I mean if folks don't actually believe you have a future, then maybe it is that future you should be focused on rather than cobbling up some phony benchmark to hit HP over the head with. The Register covered this drama with more depth than I just did and it is a good read.


Itanium FUD


No don't get me wrong, we don't hear that much about Itanium so it is easy to FUD it. Intel rarely puts it on a roadmap, and you won't see it on any TV ads from either HP or Intel. This is largely because it only goes into really big systems. And in really big systems the processor may be a key part but it is a relatively minor one as each major vendor leads with a different chip. Your choices are Itanium, SPARC and Power. This means that we evaluate the system as a system and that is the focus of the evaluation. Itanium isn't the future of Pentium as it once was; it is now a specialized part for specialized loads that are unique to the massive hardware it is placed within.


However, if folks don't talk about something, it is easy to imply that they are planning to remove it and that is apparently what Oracle is trying to do. Oracle seems to be still bleeding Sun accounts to both IBM and HP, partially because folks don't trust the future of SPARC, so Oracle is tossing FUD at Itanium to balance the scales by saying that Intel and HP are pulling the plug.


Unfortunately for Oracle, HP just had a massive analyst event and in the server break-out had showcased under NDA the future for Itanium in new products. While I can't share that future, it is NDA, and for those of us in the session there was no doubt that Itanium is going to continue. More importantly, the changes being made should make it vastly more cost effective than anything Oracle can announce on SPARC. You'll understand what I mean in a few months, or if you have an HP relationship, ask HP what I'm talking about and you'll have a big "ah hah" moment. But you won't be able to share it any more than I can.


Wrapping up: Is Oracle That Desperate?


When a vendor goes on the attack with heavy FUD against companies like Intel and HP, you have to wonder what it is that it doesn't want us to see. It feels like a distraction, focusing our eyes on one place in order to take our attention away from a problem someplace else. This may simply be to slow the continued erosion from old Sun accounts to HP, but I wonder how good Oracle's intelligence is because, anecdotally, I'm seeing IBM as the big beneficiary of this HP/Oracle dustup. It almost seems like Ellison is so upset that he made himself look stupid by hiring Mark Hurd, particularly with Hurd's sex letter being released, that he can only focus on HP and not see the bigger threat: a more focused IBM.


There is a lot under the covers here with the lasting message being: Don't trust competitive information from a vendor. In fact, in general, look to third parties or your own testing to make product decisions. And, if a vendor seems to have a habit of telling tall tales, consider that trust is a benchmark as well, and none of us can afford a vendor we can't trust. That was the reason behind IBM's old rule of never speaking ill of a competitor, which is a rule I think Oracle should now consider adopting.

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