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Oracle middleware moves take back seat to hardware efforts

Driven by necessity, Oracle has become a more impressive middleware company in recent years. The middleware buildup is somewhat obscured for now by its hardware ambitions.

A long string of enterprise application company purchases saddled Oracle with a disjointed product line that only good middleware could remedy. While it was building out some mostly Java based middleware for in-house  Fusion Applications’ suite needs, it offered the resultant Fusion Middleware tools to the wider public. 

For some reason, these Oracle Fusion stories haven’t quite come across too vividly. The reason is the controversial Larry Ellison, who is suddenly selling hardware with a very hard sell technique.

Last month at OracleOpenWorld, both stories – Fusion Middleware and Fusion Applications – got short shrift as colorful company head Larry Ellison disparaged head Mark Benioff , belittled the speed of RedHat’s Linux distro, criticized the IBM mainframe and just generally gushed as he rolled out  his new Exalogic cloud in a box.

According to Ellison:

*Benioff was “offended because [Oracle’s Exalogic] box was taller than he was”;

*Oracle created a new version of the Linux kernel to compete with its present RedHat-based Linux kernel because “we needed an OS… that was a lot faster”; and (clearly aiming a barb at IBM’s mainframe);

*Exalogic is “big iron without the big price.”

So let’s break down some details of the discussion.

* Let’s not argue that Big Blue’s big iron does not cost big bucks. But let’s say that the $1-million-plus tentative price tag for Exalogic does somewhat resemble a mainframe’s tag;

*  Let’s ask if Ellison’s implied definition of cloud as ‘taller than Mark Benioff’ negates the fact that Benioff’s view of cloud has held public currency for a good while now;

* But, let’s grant that Oracle’s Linux kernel may be faster on the hardware it gained with its acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

Truth is, this final point plays to a theme submerging much else these days at Oracle.

The theme : “Hardware and software, engineered to work together.”  Ellison repeated the phrase several time in Oracle Open World keynotes. It really was a pretty hard sell. So hard that there is reason to suspect that the pressure is on to really make the Sun acquisition work very quickly.

Although the Sun acquisition was a long time in production, this has to come as something of a surprise to the vast majority of long-time Oracle customers who come to events such as Oracle Open World to see what kind of software they can place on any number of hardware platforms. Oracle’s early data base success was very much due to its ability to run well on many platforms.

A Larry Ellison that was somewhat muted during his sportsman’s quest for the America’s Cup yachting trophy has emerged from recent Oracle Open World with continued invective. Perhaps not too curiously much of this rancor is aimed at competing hardware powerhouse Hewlett-Packard. Ellison has to make quick inroads in hardware – software, including middleware, may be taking a back seat for a while.

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