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Oracle Exec: Commodity Servers Fine For Some Tasks, Not For Running Enterprise Apps

John Fowler,Oracle's top engineering exec, gives some credit to the commodity server approach used by Google and Facebook, but said his company's engineered systems are better for enterprises.

Google, Facebook and Amazon have all found the approach of running custom-built software on cheap hardware to be a great way to run massively scalable web services.

While this trend might seem to threaten Oracle's engineered systems -- in which software and hardware are tightly integrated -- that isn't the case, John Fowler, executive vice president of Oracle's systems group, said during a press conference Wednesday at the OpenWorld conference.

"We compete with generic computing from a hardware standpoint, but we also sell software," Fowler said.

[Related: Oracle CTO Ellison Rolls Up Sleeves, Gives Live Tech Demos At OpenWorld ]

Google runs its search engine on commodity servers, but uses more sophisticated infrastructure in other parts of its business, Fowler said. Likewise, Oracle runs some of its semiconductor development on "generic computing" infrastructure.

But when it comes to running e-commerce and other mission critical enterprise apps, Oracle's engineered systems are the better option, Fowler said. In Oracle's view, software is just as important as hardware, and engineered systems are well worth their hefty price tags.

Oracle has spent much of this year's OpenWorld conference talking about how its integrated hardware, software and silicon approach makes its cloud portfolio -- which now includes Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service and SaaS apps -- better than what competitors offer.

Fowler showed off a specially designed Sparc M7 processor, which uses technology Oracle gained in its 2010 acquisition of his former employer Sun Microsystems.

Oracle CTO Larry Ellison has described the Sparc M7 as "the most important thing we've done in silicon" because it offers dramatically faster database and app performance. It's slated to arrive sometime in 2015.

Oracle has been making big investments in cloud, and customers that use it can simplify -- and shrink -- the infrastructure they use to run their businesses, Fowler said.

When Oracle customers buy cloud infrastructure and apps, that doesn't mean they won't be buying as much hardware, Fowler said. Enterprises and service providers -- like Salesforce.com -- will still need hardware to run their cloud services, he said.

"The company that builds the best hardware to run the cloud is going to win, and that's what we're focused on," Fowler said.

This type of computing isn't just for enterprises that have gigantic computing challenges, he said.

"We believe everyone, down into the mid-tier and entry [level] businesses, are going to be doing apps using high-performance, in-memory compute," he said.

PUBLISHED OCT. 1, 2014

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