The pact between Oracle and Sun to provide dedicated, single function database servers could fulfil its aim and become a genuine threat to Microsoft, according to analysts.
The deal is the first in a series of expected alliances to come out of Oracle?s Raw Iron project, announced by Larry Ellison, the database supplier?s chairman and chief executive, at the Comdex show in Las Vegas this November.
But the Sun agreement is not quite what Ellison had in mind at the time, when he declared that Raw Iron boxes would run Oracle?s own ?special purpose, slim-line? operating system (OS).
Under the terms of this deal, Sun?s Sparc-based ?database server appliances? will instead run a stripped down, free version of the supplier?s Solaris Unix variant that will be factory-installed. The bundle will also include Sun?s - rather than Oracle?s - middleware and e-commerce products, and an integrated version of the Oracle 8i database.
As a result, Scott McNealy, Sun chief executive, was suitably effusive. ?I love you, man,? he said to his counterpart at Oracle during a conference call, despite the fact that the the announcement failed to live up to the hype.
It had been billed as the launch of a computer that did not need an operating system at all, but McNealy said the collaboration between the companies would lead to a ?tightly, seamlessly and invisibly integrated environment?.
Ellison, for his part, said that customer choice would not be curtailed because Solaris and Oracle 8i could still be purchased separately, but he added that Oracle had chosen to go with Solaris rather than the company?s own OS because of its robustness and scalability, and because it could run on Intel-based servers.
The OS will be hidden from users anyway, he continued, and it will be free. Oracle customers will also be able to upgrade to a full version of Solaris by purchasing a software key from Sun, while Sun customers will have an easy upgrade path to the full Oracle 8i database.
Although neither party was willing to estimate the sales potential of the integrated products, Ellison said he saw database server appliances as ?a huge part of our business going forward?.
About half of all Oracle databases currently in production run on dedicated servers already, he explained, but they all have the potential to be replaced by single-function database servers.
The first database appliances are due to ship in March, running on 4- and 8-processor Sparc servers.
But Ellison said that the Sun deal was non-exclusive and he expected other PC server manufacturers to ship Intel-based database appliances. Dell and Compaq could not be reached for comment by close of play today, but Oracle is discussing a similar agreement with Hewlett-Packard to develop similar bundles, running its HP/UX Unix variant.
Kimball Brown, an analyst with Dataquest, said he saw the new alliance between Sun and Oracle as a potential long-term threat to Microsoft, however.
?They have a huge technology lead here [over Microsoft], no doubt about it,? he claimed.
He also believed that the deal would provide a robust and proven 64-bit platform to run on Intel?s 64-bit Merced processor when it ships in 2000.
?If I?m Compaq and I?m fighting against HP on the Unix side, I?d be pretty excited about this,? he said.
But Microsoft retorted that its Windows NT/Back Office family of products already provided the kind of integration and ease of use that Oracle and Sun are promising, and questioned whether the OS would really be offered for free.
?It would be interesting to see their definitive pricing. You are going to be paying for that operating system somewhere,? said Karan Khanna, Microsoft?s lead product manager for Windows NT Server.
He also disputed whether single-task servers could save customers money.
?If you buy expensive [server] hardware, you may want it to do more than just one thing,? he attested.
Analysts are also expecting other software companies to come up with similar bundling and integration deals.
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