“Steve Jobs is my best friend,” said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, early in his Oracle OpenWorld keynote on September 23. “I love him dearly, and he’s someone I watch very closely, watch what he does over at Apple.” While it’s unlikely that we’ll see iPod or iPad-like billboards featuring silhouettes of IT managers rocking out to their Oracle Exadatas, Ellison is unabashed in expressing his desire to emulate what Jobs has done. “We believe that if you engineer the hardware and software pieces to work together, the overall user experience – the product – is better than if you do just part of the solution.”
Exadata and the new Exalogic Elastic Cloud, which Oracle announced at OpenWorld: Do they represent commoditization or innovation? The answer is both. For obvious reasons, vendors tend not to market their ability to provide commodity products. IT buyers are consumers, too, and “commodity” has that word “common” in it – not too inspiring. In the consumer market, however, Apple has been highly effective at turning mass-produced machines into objects that symbolize innovation. While it’s certainly possible to imagine devices engineered to produce sound that is superlative to an iPod, Apple was the first to create the right package at the right time for the broader market.
Perhaps someday, just like an iPod, you’ll be able to buy an Exadata or Exalogic box from a dispensing machine at the airport. Ok, perhaps not. But Oracle seems convinced that mainstream IT buyers are similarly ready for a “commodity” package. They are weary from the pressure of supporting complex and costly existing systems that give them little room for discretionary spending. Configuration and change management are two of the most time-consuming tasks; it has also been difficult for IT developers to adapt software applications to parallel hardware platforms to make it easier to scale up and out. Plus, having boxes hanging off intelligent networks and existing out in the cloud appears to be the approach taken by architects of many newer systems.
Successful but relatively exotic products exist, such as Netezza (just recently acquired by IBM) and Teradata. In fact, the database market is teeming with more exotic products than at any time in the past 20 years or so. But Oracle is betting that the mainstream market will only adopt the advanced and esoteric stuff if it is inside the box. “The car industry delivers complete cars,” Ellison observed in his keynote. “There are a lot of computer systems involved in running a modern car, but it’s all been engineered and tested to work together – whether it’s a Prius or my favorite commuting car, the Bugatti.”
Given the number of software suppliers that Oracle has acquired in recent years, it’s no surprise that Oracle would be obsessed with product consolidation and integration. However, it was interesting to see how this objective is affecting strategies throughout the company. Business intelligence, for example, “should not be separate,” Ellison said. “The core of the system should be intelligence; it should be everywhere.”
This sort of consolidation and integration can be innovative, in that it will propel the majority of IT buyers into feeling that they are enabling innovation in their businesses by buying packaged machines such as Exadata and Exalogic. But time will tell, and competitors will respond. Early adopter sessions at OpenWorld that I attended made migration to Exadata sound straightforward, with considerable benefits accruing from reductions in cost and time-to-deployment compared to traditional systems. It won’t be on the bleeding edge that Oracle’s success will unfold; it will be in the mainstream.