Oracle: Have it our way

Ellison issues a $10m challenge in a crowd-pleasing keynote

Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison seldom has a kind word for archrival Microsoft. But on Tuesday, at the Oracle OpenWorld user conference, he had some back-handed praise.

"Are we trying to do in the enterprise software business what Microsoft did in office suites? You bet," Ellison said at a press conference following his keynote speech.

Ellison spent much of his hour-long, standing-room-only keynote extolling the benefits of integration. In the past, he has been a vocal critic of Microsoft's attempts to more tightly integrate more features and functionality into its Windows NT and Windows 2000 operating systems.

Ellison made much of the fact that Oracle is in the midst of integrating its more than 75 separate products into two: its 9i database and application server.

Ellison told press conference attendees he believed Microsoft behaved illegally in integrating its browser and Windows desktop but not in integrating its Office desktop applications.

"The world has chosen," Ellison said in response to a reporter's question about the apparent change of heart on integration. "No one said to Microsoft 'we won't buy you because we want an open, heterogeneous marketplace'. Consumers are voting heavily for integrated software."

"We've been a great believer in open standards," Ellison continued. "But the market wants integrated software from one vendor. I can't help it if that is what the market wants."

As expected, Ellison issued his expected $10m challenge. This year, Ellison offered the money to anyone whose web site does not run three times faster, upon replacement of Microsoft SQL Server or IBM DB2 software with Oracle's 8i database and 9i application server.

During the keynote, Ellison took the challenge up a notch, saying he would give anyone $10m (£6m) if he or she could get any application to run on the TPC-C clustered database configuration that Microsoft touted as providing the best price/performance ratio according to the Transaction Processing Council.

Ellison used the $10m challenge to support his claim that Oracle's forthcoming Real Application Clusters add-on to the 9i database will provide customers with nearly linear scalability, almost no downtime and no need to repartition applications. The 9i database and Real Application Clusters add-on aren't slated to ship until mid-2001.

Besides touting the cacheing and clustering features of Oracle's 9i database and application server, Ellison spent much of his keynote telling users why they will be better off with fewer product configurations. "Everyone in the world has a unique [Oracle] configuration. We think that's a fundamental flaw in the way software is sold," Ellison said.

The less complexity, the better, Ellison said. He added that if hardware vendors end up installing software, instead of individual customers, so much the better, in terms of reliability. In Ellison's perfect world, dedicated application servers running preconfigured, preinstalled and precertified configurations represents nirvana.

"We're working with these companies [Sun Microsystems, Hewlette-Packard, EMC and Compaq] to have pre-certificated configurations that are pre-rated," Ellison told the keynote crowd. "That gives you much more reliable, predictable systems."

He offered no further details on how or when such precertified systems might be made commercially available.

The quips just kept on coming. "Choice for some things is great," Ellison said. "Every child should be unique. Every computer configuration is not." Pricing is a different matter, however, Ellison said during his post-keynote press conference. He noted that Oracle offers users a choice of capacity-based pricing, like IBM, and named-user pricing, like Microsoft. "We think [pricing] choice is a good thing," he said. "We have more choice in pricing than anyone else."

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