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Oracle and Sun taunt IBM with Sparcs

Throwing down another gauntlet

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For what Oracle is outlining in this advertisement to be true, Sun had to have already nuked its Sparc and Solaris development efforts starting last year and continuing through the period when Sun started shopping itself around to IBM, Oracle, and presumably also Hewlett-Packard and Fujitsu. But we have it on paper now: Oracle is going to spend more money on Sparc development and Solaris development and is going to more than double the number of people selling and servicing Sparc iron.

No one ever doubted that tightly integrating Oracle with Solaris could be an important differentiator in the server racket, and Oracle will no doubt not only tune its database for Sparc/Solaris iron, but also middleware and application software. This is why you bother to spend billions on a hardware company: to create an integrated and easier to support platform.

But still, Oracle's promises laid out above lack specifics, the kinds of details that customers who are being asked to invest in Sparc T servers or Sparc Enterprise machines (which are based on Fujitsu's Sparc64 chips and the Japanese company's server designs). Where are the chip roadmaps and the server roadmaps? Where are the accompanying Solaris and storage roadmaps? Any merger is a sales pitch, not an ultimatum, after all, right?

As contentious as the acquisition of Compaq by Hewlett-Packard was back in 2001, with big shareholders and Hewlett and Packard family members opposed to the deal spearheaded by controversial HP president and chief executive officer, Carly Fiorina, HP did the right thing and laid out its product integration plans to show customers, partners, and government antitrust authorities what it would do with Compaq - which had already eaten Tandem Computers and Digital Equipment and which had complex product lines and issues of its own. You can argue about whether HP's plans were smart or not, but at least you knew what they were.

Not so with Oracle and Sun since the acquisition was announced in April. Both companies have talked in vagaries and have let rumors about product lines being killed off fester for months on end without comment from either Sun or Oracle top brass. Sun's executives - not just those at the top, but those in charge of key product lines - have been muzzled when they could be used to talk up the future products. And deal with dead products, such as Sun's once-and-not-future "Rock" UltraSparc-RK processors and their "Supernova" family of servers, for instance, which are widely believed to be dead.

The uncertainty surrounding Sun's servers has predictably had a chilling effect on its server sales. (Billings for Sparc Enterprise machines fell by 54 percent in the fourth quarter ended in June, Sparc T machines were up a tiny bit, and x64 server sales dropped by 9 percent.) With the EU regulators taking their sweet time mulling the database implications of the Oracle-Sun deal, Sun is going to have one or more bumpy quarters for server sales, but Oracle could smooth the road ahead out a little by telling customers what it will and will not do with Sun's products - with a lot of detail - should the deal go through.

Which it almost certainly will, particularly if Oracle lets go of MySQL as part of the deal. Oracle can always re-launch a MySQL product at some future date anyway, thanks to it being open source. ®

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