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Oracle's $10M Database Server Challenge

Despite rumors and innuendo, customers of Sun Microsystems should be excited about the future under Oracle management, not concerned about it. That was the message from Sun's co-founder and chairman, Scott McNealy, delivered during the opening of the Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco Sunday night.

If that reassurance isn't enough for customers, Oracle's brash CEO Larry Ellison took the stage to say he's willing to back up the combined company's promises with cold, hard cash.

As a result, Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) is launching a new program in which it promises to pay customers $10 million if a Sun configuration isn't at least twice as fast as a comparable IBM server configuration.

Ellison's offer came at the end of McNealy's keynote, throughout most of which the Sun co-founder had followed his usual routine of one-liners and zingers at IBM, Linux and Apple. During his talk, he rattled off a Top 10 list of Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA) innovations, with Java being one of them.

Then he faced up to what would happen after the $7.4 billion acquisition closes, which at this point is waiting approval from the European Commission. One of the loudest rumors in the blogosphere is that Ellison is still looking to dump Sun's hardware business.

"The question is, as we head into a new chapter, will this innovation continue? The first thing everyone asks is, 'What will happen with Sparc?'" McNealy said. "We went and asked Oracle, and Oracle is committed. They're going to spend more money developing Sparc than Sun does now, so feel comfortable about that innovation."

He also addressed MySQL, the sticking point with the EC. Last week, MySQL founder Marten Mickos sent a letter to European regulators, encouraging them to allow the merger to go through and saying Oracle could not hurt MySQL -- and could possibly help it.

McNealy, while not citing the letter, said essentially the same thing. "Larry [Ellison] has said [MySQL] doesn't compete with the Oracle database, which is true. This competes with Microsoft," he said.

"We shouldn't be worried," he added. "MySQL is GPL. If Oracle messes with it, the world will fork. There's not quite an issue here -- we're not sure why it's held up, but we're working with the authorities to make sure they understand that."

James Gosling, Java's creator and a vice president at Sun, joined McNealy to discuss how great things would be at Sun for Java.

"I've never worked for a software company, so I am looking forward to it," Gosling said.

"It won't be a software company after we get done with them," McNealy replied.

John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun's systems business, then joined them to discuss the Exadata 2 systems that Oracle recently introduced, as well as a new flash memory-based storage unit, the F5100 FlashFire Storage Array.

This 1U unit holds 1.8TB of solid-state disk capacity that Fowler said uses only about 300 watts of power. He did not give a price or time of availability.

Finally, Ellison joined them and said, once again, that he is not interested in selling any parts of Sun following the acquisition.

"I think it's exciting that we can take this great company, Sun, and combine it with another great company, Oracle, and merge those technologies and maybe do things that neither company could be able to do by themselves," Ellison said.

He pointed out that Oracle owns two open source databases, Sleepy Cat and InnoDB, in both of which Oracle increased its investment following the announcement of its acquisition of Sun.

Of MySQL, he added: "We also think that MySQL is a fantastic piece of technology, it's extremely popular, it's an open source product, and we're going to increase our rate of contribution to that product."

He then took several swipes at IBM over its aggressive pursuit of Sun customers. He said that the new Exadata 2 servers had beaten IBM's best performance for online transaction processing (OLTP) system by 26 percent, using just nine racks of gear to IBM's 76, which consumed four times as much power.

"I don't know what a 'Smarter Planet' is," he said, taking a dig at IBM's current green-power marketing campaign, "but Oracle-Sun is focused on making smarter computers, which consume less power."