The New IBM? Oracle-Sun Still Shy A Few Key Parts

Oracle's plan to use technology it got with the acquisition of Sun Microsystems to build integrated solutions in much the same way IBM did with the mainframe could work given its stated goal of optimizing Sun hardware for Oracle software, but the company is still missing a few critical parts.

Oracle's strategy, now that it has both its legacy application business and Sun's hardware, operating system, and virtualization business, is to build integrated systems similar to the mainframe of the 1960s, but based on open systems, said Charles Phillips, president of Oracle.

Phillips called this is a strategy that no other vendors, even IBM could do, given the difficulty of getting huge teams of hardware and software engineers to work hand-in-hand.

Oracle plans to keep key pieces of Sun's server, storage, and microprocessor product lines, but future development of these products will be focused on optimizing them to run Oracle applications.

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Oracle sees in its strategy the opportunity to integrate its storage and hardware product lines at a level unmatched by other vendors, including IBM.

It has already demonstrated that capability with the Sun Oracle Database Machine, an appliance which integrates Sun's industry-standard server, storage, and networking components with Oracle's Database 11g Release 2 and Oracle Exadata Storage Server Software. The Database Machine can be ordered with up to eight database servers per 42U rack.

IBM cannot do that level of integration in part because of limitations in its DB2 database software, said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

"Let's see, how many servers can (IBM) attach to their database," Ellison said. "One. They can have up to one server attached to their database."

However, before Oracle or any industry observers can compare the new Oracle-Sun to IBM in terms of its ability to be a full-fledged IT supplier, the company still needs a few more parts.

On the product side, Oracle's most glaring hole is in networking. Sun had a small networking business, including products from a variety of suppliers. However, that part of the business in no way compares to the lock on networking that other vendors looking to build their own integrated data center stacks offer.

These include Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) strategy which aims to combine storage, networking, and servers into a single architecture, as well as Hewlett-Packard's recent acquisition of networking vendor 3Com and storage networking vendor Brocade's acquisition of networking vendor Foundry Networks.

However, it is true that IBM also does not have its own networking offering. Instead, it has close relations with vendors such as Brocade.

Next: What Oracle Lacks

IBM, on the other hand, has three things that Oracle lacks if it wants to be an all-around, integrated IT supplier.

In terms of products, IBM targets the full gamut of customer types with products ranging from commercial servers for small businesses to products targeting commercial, government, high-performance computing and other markets. That gives IBM the flexibility to expand or contract or otherwise change its product mix as needed, and to piggyback efforts in one target market on products developed for all markets in general.

Oracle, on the other hand, has made it clear that, by integrating its software and Sun's hardware and other technology in an application-optimized fashion, it is limiting its market focus. While that could be an advantage when targeting Oracle's legacy markets, it could limit growth opportunities, especially in the legacy Sun customer base where there is no specific market focus.

The second thing missing from Oracle is a strong general-purpose professional services business. Oracle has not made professional services an important part of their business over the years, and its consulting business tends to focus more on technical and product implementation. For its fiscal year 2009, which ended May 31, Oracle reported a total services and consulting revenue of $4.4 billion, which was down from the $4.6 billion reported for fiscal 2008.

IBM, on the other hand, has a strong services business, one that contributes a significant part of its margin. The company earlier this month reported fourth quarter 2009 services revenue of $18.8 billion, up 9 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2008.

And, unlike Oracle, IBM also has a global financing arm that its direct and indirect sales channels can use to help finance customer purchases. For the fourth quarter of 2009, IBM reported global financing revenue of $600 million, down 6 percent year-over-year. For IBM, global financing offered 52-percent margins in the fourth quarter of 2009, up 2 percent over the same period in 2008.

Rick Whiting contributed to this article.