After taking some pretty wicked body blows last week from Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, IBM yesterday laughed off his claim of Oracle-Sun database superiority, dismissed his strategic vision as a tired rehash of IBM's past achievements, and said his lack of advanced business analytics represents a glaring gap in capability.
Offering a coming attraction of the intensified competition that's already begun as Oracle begins to weave Sun's hardware into its product line, an IBM executive painted a very different picture of the IBM-Oracle database battles than Ellison did five days earlier in his overview of how Oracle-Sun will look to disrupt the IT marketplace.
"What Ellison talked about is nothing new—we've been doing all of that for a long time," said IBM director of product strategy for information management Bernie Spang.
"It looks to me like Oracle is just following IBM's lead—we've been tuning DB2 with our hardware and software for well over a decade," Spang said in a phone conversation yesterday. "It's not a new idea—we've been doing processor-tuned databases for multiple decades.
"Ellison said he admires IBM's business model, and it looks like he's trying to follow our lead with integrated systems. They have their new Exadata, but our Systems E has been a database machine for decades now," combining data warehousing software with optimized systems and processors along with IBM storage, Spang said.
Those details aside, Spang said, Oracle's strategic vulnerability going forward is its lack of products and technologies advanced business analytics, a product segement that's rapidly gaining favor among CIOs and CEOs who want to move from the historical model of traditional financial reporting and into the forward-looking capability of predictive analytics: what's around the corner.
" "Last year, in July, we took the next step forward in our product line because customers were telling us that they loved our data-warehousing software solutions, but could we add business analytics software on top of it so they could make better use of the warehouse," Spang said.
"So we added Cognos onto it and renamed the new product IBM SmartAnalytics System because it lets customers make better decisions. And that's a big problem for Oracle because they don't have that.
"If you need transportation, you want to go out and buy a car—you don't buy just the engine. But Exadata is still just the engine—it' s not the car—you need analytics on top of what they have. So that's another case where we're showing the way."
Speaking of "the way," it's generally not been IBM's way to spar publicly with competitors and their assertions about product capabilities and features. But it appears that Ellison's sharply pointed digs at IBM—which, while providing an interesting tale, were not supported with any proof or details—made IBM want to offer its own thoughts on how its database products stack up against Oracle's.
What sparked Spang's spirits were these comments from Ellison during his characteristically feisty 12-minute unscripted overview of the Oracle-Sun strategy, which we wrote about in a column called Global CIO: Oracle's Ellison Challenges IBM, NetApp And—Well—Everyone:
Back in April when Oracle announced its intention to acquire Sun—ironically, shortly after IBM dropped its bid to make that deal—Ellison said he pushed his team to "look at Sun's current Sparc and Solaris technology, and our current database technology, and marry them up and see how we compared to IBM's largest and fastest servers. IBM was then the record-holder in TCP database performance." The result, Ellison said, was that "we blew the doors off of IBM. We crushed them. In a machine that takes up less than 10% of the floor space of IBM's record-setting computer, we ran faster—a lot faster—using only a tiny fraction of the floor space, a tiny fraction of the power, and it costs less."
IBM's not buying that story, however, and Spang said a lot of CIOs as well are failing to buy it. In the second half of 2009, he said, more than 100 companies running SAP applications on top of Oracle databases replaced those databases with DB2.
"The reason why is part of a broader trend of better performance and lower costs—we've done a lot with improved automation of tasks built into DB2, particularly with SAP optimizations," he said. "So I thought [Ellison's assertion] was amusing."
One customer that checked out databases from both companies for use in medical research is BJC Healthcare, which runs 13 hospitals and needed to build a 3-terabyte database of patient treatment and histories to allow trends and patterns to be spotted so that diagnoses and treatment could be more effective.
BJC ended up choosing IBM for a number of reasons, said lead architect Tom Holdener, and the organization's been very happy with its choice after giving each company an equal chance at winning its business.
"The IBM installation was easy to do, they gave us lots of help, and answered all of our questions in a very timely fashion," Holdener said. "We had it up quickly and within a week had data flowing into it. With Oracle, they were slow in response to our questions, and it took longer to set up, and after it was set up we found that only about 90% of the data was accepted—we weren't sure what was going on with the other 10%."
Calls to Oracle were not returned, he said, until two weeks later, and BJC chose IBM. The new system, which lets researchers see only the relevant portions of patients' charts and protects confidentiality, has collapsed the time required for some queries from weeks or even months to 10-15 minutes for most inquiries, or just less than a day for the most complex.
It's not the first scrap between IBM and Oracle and it sure won't be the last, and as a result CIOs should be able to play these aggressive and capable adversaries against each other to gain terms and levels of service that might not have been available before. Isn't competition a great thing?
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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