IBM vs Oracle: Clash of the Titans

The swords are again drawn between the big guns of the enterprise IT world – IBM and Oracle. While both of them deny competing with each other, their obsession with each other is not hidden. The rivalry between them also keeps the market on the roll. CIOs of the world are also familiar and perhaps enjoy the onslaught of claims and counter-claims by them on a number of occasions. Not long time back, IBM chucked an open challenge on Oracle when it claimed to have taken most of Sun Microsystems’ (which Oracle had taken over in January 2010) customers.

Sun’s acquisition had put Oracle in direct competition with IBM. While IBM was spending time to realize the implications, Oracle utilized much of its time in integrating Sun’s technology into its Exadata and Exalogic systems, taking a competitive advantage over the rival. In return, IBM’s jealousy continued to surface on a number of occasions.

 One of IBM’s senior executives, Steve Mills mocked Oracle’s Exadata systems in an interview to a website counting on Exadata’s defects in a tad loud manner. Easy to guess that IBM was a bit uncomfortable with Oracle’s success on the Exadata front which it felt was an over-hyped product.

But any rivalry – if fought honestly – often results in innovation, rendering the market with variegated business critical solutions that reduce costs, simplify IT environment, increase speed, etc.

The titans are once again vis–vis. The latest salvo has been fired from IBM’s armory and has an industry-wide resonance because the product is aimed at stealing the biggest chunk from the data center convergence market. Claimed to have been developed after spending a whopping amount of not less than $2 bn over the last 4 years, IBM’s PureSystems is a hardware and software integrated product for enterprise clients. “IBM’s expert integrated systems family – PureSystems – is an unprecedented move to integrate all IT elements, both physical and virtual,” claims IBM in its release.


Do Products Alter CIO Sentiments?

How influenced are CIOs when a product lands in the marketplace? Does it matter to them what Oracle or IBM come out with?

The answers may be contrary. But if the clientele of both to the companies is kept in mind, one would realize the level of influence they exert on CIOs. Even now when IBM is in the limelight, there is a whole lot of buzz in the CIO fraternity about the products and that too, for an obvious reason: They want to reduce the complexity of their systems, bring agility into their infrastructure, and move faster to the cloud. When Oracle launched Exadata a couple of years back, CIOs looked at the product with almost similar questions in mind.

What Exactly do the PureSystems Boast of?

If IBM is to be believed, with PureSystems it is unveiling 3 major advances that point to a new era of computing technology. “PureSystems family of solutions allow CIOs ease of implementation, since they are plug-and-play solutions. By tightening the connections between hardware and software, and adding incomparable software expertise, the system is designed to help clients in India and global to free uptime and money to focus on innovation that many business are unable to address due to ever rising costs and staffing needs in the traditional data center,” says Pradeep Nair, director, software group, IBM India.

In an indirect way, one of the architects involved in the development of PureSystems at its India R&D also divulged Dataquest the details about how it is a different system than any of Oracle’s solutions. According to him, while Exadata systems take a considerable time and exertion to configure, PureSystems boast of a plug-and-play functionality and so can be put to work in less than 2 hours. Also, unlike Exadata, it saves the customers from being victims of vendor-lock-ins. All said and done, every vendor has a habit of putting its systems ahead of its competitors. The loopholes do take a lot of time to surface.

But if you ask Oracle, it quickly jumps into explaining things with examples from the industry, boasting of customers which went live with Exadata in less than six hours. “But what our competitors say hardly matters. One of our customers had Exadata live in just 6 hours. Forget about configuring it, I don’t think any of the competition solutions has this capability,” argues Christopher G Chelliah, VP, Exadata and strategic solutions, Oracle Asia Pacific.

IBM’s eagerness to be the first choice of CIOs was also apparent during the launch event when it laid a lot of emphasis on 3 things:

  • ‘Scale-in’ System Design: The company brags of introducing a new concept in system design that integrates the server, storage, and networking into a highly automated, simple-to-manage machine. Scale-in design, it says, provides for increased density. It does not refrain from claiming that PureSystems can handle twice as many applications as today’s technology, doubling the computing power per sq ft of data center space. “It can cut in half-the-time and expense devoted to systems management, while it makes unplanned outages a thing of the past – slashing them 98%,” further claims the company.
  • Pattern of Expertise: It comes with a software that boasts to allow the systems to automatically handle basic, time-consuming tasks such as configuration, upgrades, and applications requirements.
  • Cloud Ready Integration: The systems are said to have been built for the cloud, enabling corporations to instantly create private, self-service cloud offerings that can scale up and down automatically.

Data Center Convergence Opportunity

IBM and Oracle are perhaps only one part of the scene which is vying for the data center convergence opportunity in the market.

But to undermine the competition from HP and Dell would also be a mistake.

Way back, before Oracle bought Sun Microsystems, and even before HP became a hardware vendor with Big Red, Dell was Oracle’s chosen buddy for running parallel Oracle databases using real application cluster on top of Linux. But as the veterans say, friends become foes and foes become friends in the course of time. Dell and Oracle also turned business foes as the time went by. Oracle is in the hardware business now. And now, Dell counts amongst its rivals.

Not a long time ago, Dell had upped the ante by claiming to have launched Exadata killers through its 12th generation PowerEdge server line-up. Equally, IBM can not overlook the significance of these vendors who brag of a substantial market share in the mid- and high-end market.

But in the end, it is perhaps the CIO who will win. But let us be honest and at least give IBM the credit of taking the innovation to a new level. Undoubtedly Oracle, Dell, and HP, among others would like to excel further in their offerings and bring more innovation to the forefront.

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