Ellison stakes his job on real application clusters

SAN FRANCISCO — If there’s one thing that gets Larry Ellison hot under the collar, it’s Web services.

There’s a common misperception that Web services are capable of solving application integration problems, said Ellison. It was the only issue that stirred the Oracle Corp. chief executive from his seat during the briefing that followed his Open World keynote address Tuesday.

“Application integration has nothing to do with Web services,” he said. He spoke of the “monumental idiocy” when people assume Web services are a panacea. If two people are speaking two different languages over the telephone, the solution is not to give them a cell phone, observed Ellison.

“You can’t lace these Web services into some coherent application whole. It’s a cool technology, but not a revolutionary new thing that will solve 80 per cent of the problems in the application industry.”

Ellison made these comments the same day his company planted its stake in the Web services business with a new J2EE-compliant application server, version two of 9iAS. He defended the technology and Oracle’s place in the fledgling business, but ultimately Web services are just another example of high-tech trendiness.

“If you’re in the computer business, you’ve got to realize you’re in the fashion business,” he said, referring to recent years in which business to consumer, then business to business applications were deemed hot. “You’ve got to be able to move those hemlines up and down as the fashion changes.”

Ellison devoted relatively little of his keynote to the 9iAS server, making the thrust of his presentation the 9i database running Real Application Clusters (RAC), a technology introduced during his 2000 Open World keynote.

RAC is shared disk technology as opposed to “shared nothing,” the approach Microsoft and IBM use for their database offerings, he said. Shared nothing clusters each take a piece of the total database, whereas shared disk clusters can access any portion of the database.

RAC has taken a dozen years to perfect, Ellison told Open World attendees. “About 12 years ago, Oracle finished the second major re-write of our database (then Oracle 6). It almost bankrupted the company. The first version of Oracle 6 that actually worked was called Oracle 7.”

While RAC can be considered fault tolerant by not allowing any unscheduled downtime, it hasn’t yet achieved 99.999 per cent availability. That may not be accomplished until version 10 or 11 of the product, Ellison admitted during the briefing afterward.

With RAC on 9i, Ellison claims to have changed the economics of database computing. He spent a considerable portion of his keynote trying to break the common perception that Oracle solutions are reliable but expensive. 9i is more expensive than DB2, he said, but not after you factor in OLAP and data mining tool purchases. “Most of the cost associated with running systems is not software,” he said. “It’s labour, networking and hardware.”

Ellison refuted analysts’ claims that Oracle has lost some ground in the database market to its closest competition IBM, pointing the finger at Big Blue for using fuzzy math. IBM, he claimed, includes products other than DB2 when reporting sales and reports based on increases in shipment percentages rather than actual dollar amounts.

Oracle may have a broad portfolio of products, but it is touting RAC above all others. If RAC doesn’t work “I will spend more time sailing,” said Ellison during the post-briefing. “I’ll submit my resignation. I have no back-up.”

If Ellison ever does step down, he isn’t saying who might take his place. Oracle has seen a long line of executives move onto other companies including Craig Conway (PeopleSoft), Michael Capellas (Compaq) and most recently Jay Nussbaum (KPMG Consulting), who resigned last Friday. Ellison said he’s tried grooming some right-hand men “but they tend to get caught up in the limelight. . . . It’s easy to get drunk on this stuff.”

Will Ellison ever name a successor? “I’m going to wait until the last possible minute,” he said.

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