Oracle has made a name for itself by providing tools that data users need to handle the big jobs. Whether it is database management, CRM, business intelligence or a host of other functions, Oracle usually has an integrated hardware/software solution at the ready.
This has drawn a legion of followers, of course, but it has prompted a fair share of criticism as well, mostly along the lines that Oracle is not as flexible as other top vendors and exerts too much control over its platforms, preventing users from developing customized approaches to key problems.
So when the company announced last week that it was releasing a Converged Infrastructure (CI) portfolio to rival the Cisco/EMC/VMware VCE platform, talk immediately emerged about the coming war for the CI space and whether any one solution has the chops to dominate what is likely to be an increasingly fragmented data center market.
Oracle’s solution consists of three main products: the X5 virtual compute appliance, the X5 Exadata database machine and the FS1 Flash storage system. Oracle claims the system can be up and running in a matter of hours, doing away with many of the deployment and integration functions that conventional infrastructure requires, at about half the cost. As well, it can support distributed architectures and branch office configurations while handling large, scale-out workloads via Flash caching and an integrated InfiniBand backplane. Along with other key modules like the X5 Big Data appliance and the zero data loss recovery appliance, the platform offers an end-to-end solution capable of meeting the most challenging workloads.
But this kind of tight integration of hardware and software runs counter to the prevailing trend in scale-up/out enterprise infrastructure development, which tends to favor stripped-down commodity hardware and customized software. The latter approach is generally cheaper and more flexible and allows for greater autonomy when it comes to reducing reliance on a single vendor. Oracle’s Larry Ellison, however, says he is welcoming a chance to compete on price against top competitors like EMC and Cisco, and maintains that a single-vendor solution makes life easier for the enterprise because it avoids the messy integration issues that commodity solutions foster, most significantly in the need to pay in-house experts top salaries to deal with it all.
Indeed, the introduction of an integrated infrastructure solution just may hit a sweet spot in the IT industry as organizations look to shed responsibility for underlying hardware in favor of greater productivity higher up the stack. As Matt Eastwood, VP/GM of Oracle’s Enterprise Platform Group, noted to theCUBE recently, initiatives like cloud computing, mobility and social networking place greater value on innovative applications and data utilization because compute, storage and networking are usually available at desirable levels from a wide range of sources. For critical data and applications that must remain in-house, solutions that can mirror this capability without calling for an inordinate amount of TLC on the hardware level will prove extremely valuable.
The key challenge for Oracle, however, is to convince enterprise executives that the transition to converged, modular infrastructure is also the right time to try out a new vendor, according to Business Insider’s Julie Bort. This is a tall order considering the massive installed base of Cisco, EMC, SAP and other solutions that Oracle’s engineered system is intended to supplant. The enterprise industry takes its customer-vendor relationships very seriously, and it is extremely difficult to wean organizations away from long-standing platforms, particularly when the new technology will have to integrate directly with the old. And Oracle may already be stepping up to the plate with one strike against it if rumors pan out that VMware is looking to replace many Oracle software solutions on its virtual platforms with SAP.
If it was anybody other than Oracle looking to supplant the likes of Cisco, EMC and VMware in the data center, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it to happen. But Oracle already has the proven ability to tackle complex data environments, even if its solutions are generally regarded as suitable only for the Fortune 5000 set. If Ellison and co. can back up their claims of an integrated, state-of-the-art solution that can compete on price with key rivals, I say let the games begin.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.