Trash-Talking on Grid and SOA

Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison was in top form at a recent financial analyst
meeting in New York, hitting his marks on all the major points.

He talked up Oracle’s products, all the cash the company throws off,
verbally jousted with enterprise software rival SAP, and kept up the tech
industry’s grand tradition: trash-talking the competition. It was all very,
well, Larry.

“We’re the only ones doing database grids on the Earth. We’ve got it
today. The other guys are thinking about it,” he said of Oracle’s 10g
product lines that help enable grid-computing abilities, such as clustering
and improved server capacity utilization.

“We’re passing BEA, passing [IBM’s] WebSphere, and we’re taking on
Microsoft,” he continued, taking pre-emptive aim at Microsoft’s next release
of its SQL Server enterprise database product, slated for this year.

And he tied it all up in a neat bow to fit the theme of the day: Cost
Savings Through Better Utilization as part of the company’s grid computing

Grids and grid computing systems , of course, help hardware utilization. They help decision-makers
make better use of their investments in computing power by helping to
harness CPUs, by linking unused processing cycles, in order to make use of capacity or even manage it during peak computing demands. This is what enterprises are looking to do. It makes sense that it would dominate an analyst meeting with a major enterprise software provider like Oracle.

And IBM is happy to remind folks of research that calls Big Blue the current leader in the market for application servers with 41 percent market share, according to Gartner. Several other analyst firms also state that IBM is the world wide application server market leader.

But when Ellison and other executives chatted about how Oracle’s 10g
product is helping companies adopt service-oriented architecture
, and Oracle’s support for open standards, On Demand software (such as software as a service), another story began to emerge: SOA’s impact on the

To hear Ellison and his lieutenants talk up 10g and grid computing is one
thing. But to hear them toss around terms such as SOA, on-demand and Web services in front of a bunch of financial analysts is quite another.

By talking up SOA and grid computing to an audience more comfortable
with financial terms such as EBITDA, Ellison was also
telling the spreadsheet crowd to be aware of the technology. He was telegraphing that more companies, especially major consumers of IT, are rapidly deploying SOAs and Web Services.

You can tell they are because they were trash-talking products that support that trend. Take Chuck Rozwat’s comments at the same analyst day presentation event. Rozwat, an executive vice president in Oracle’s server technology group, explained the benefits of grid computing and discussed examples of the industry’s shift from the client-server era from more than 20 years ago to a truly distributed computing model.

Then came the comparisons, such as Microsoft’s SQL Server 2005. (“The
title suggest there’s a good sign it might actually be delivered this year,”
he said, echoing Ellison’s comments about Microsoft’s delayed upgrade to
SQL Server, currently code-named Yukon.)

Rozwat might as
well have said woop-dee-doo about some of Microsoft’s SQL Server features
planned for the next release. Business reporting services in SQL Server
2005? “We’ve had reporting services for years,” said Rozwat.

SQL Server 2005 is also providing key features around building SOAs
with Microsoft’s .NET framework, too, which has had a good five years to
mature since it was first introduced to developers and is fundamentally about building applications for Web services and SOAs.

Whether SQL Server can support
grids is an open question, but that SQL Server 2005 is built to support
developers’ shift to building SOAs and Web services is without question — and will be a key feature in future releases. It also arrives as developers increasingly use
Microsft’s .NET framework to build SOAs with an emphasis on loose coupling between software components and the use of separately standing interfaces.

It’s another example of why everyone in the industry is talking about interoperability. SOAs support reusable frameworks that consist of full source code and reference documentation.

Jonathan Eunice, technology analyst at research firm Illuminata, helped
adjust the hall of mirrors that these presentations can sometimes turn into,
noting that some of Oracle’s claims about 10g compared to competitors are
mostly about “Larry being Larry.”

In fact, he argued, Oracle doesn’t deploy much that most folks would
recognize as a genuine grid product.

“Oracle 10g is a great product and a great distributed database, but
what’s the sweet spot? Four nodes? Eight nodes at max? That’s a small cluster.
There are many grids that have hundreds or thousands of nodes — and IBM has deployed a number of them, as have Platform Computing, United Devices and a number of other organizations.”

And as for the Enterprise Grid Alliance (EGA), an industry advocacy group
formed by Oracle, Dell and others, Eunice says part of the EGA’s goal is to
essentially recast the term “grid” away from the current definition as a
“large, heterogeneous network of cooperating systems communicating with
standard protocols and APIs ” to something that includes “small, homogenous
networks of cooperating systems based on their proprietary products.”

When he’s not cringing at the attempt to hijack industry definitions,
Eunice says he finds all the trash-talking kind of humorous.

This is not to say every technology presentation that Oracle organizes is
spent carping about competitors. Steve Yatko, a managing director for R&D at
investment bank CSFB, talked to analysts about CSFB’s successful use of Oracle’s 10g product. Grid computing systems are becoming the nervous system for the bank’s IT infrastructure, and SOA adoption is an underpinning of that strategy, he added.

Why? Because grid computing, built on SOA, helps the bank control and
manage resource utilization and capacity management. It also helps the bank
break down silos of data locked away in legacy systems and helps free that data for use in new formats and form factors across different computing platforms. But perhaps most
important, it helps the bank manage costs and the cost of integrating new information (such as from mergers with other banks) more quickly.

“Distributed computing
as we know it is dead. SOAs can fundamentally deliver capacity in real time,
something we can’t do today in distributed computing systems,” he said.

This is what more companies big and small are discovering, as development
platforms grow in maturity to support the new architecture. When viewed
through that reality, Ellison’s shots at his company’s rivals, such as SAP’s
NetWeaver, IBM’s WebSphere and DB2 database products, and Microsoft’s SQL
Server 2005, make sense. Adoption of SOA is many things, but fundamentally,
it is about a different approach to architecting databases, Oracle’s bread
and butter.

In fairness to Oracle, its financial analyst day came right after an event during which Oracle highlighted its 10g product family, which includes
Oracle’s 10g Application Server, Database Server, Enterprise Manager 10g and
Grid Control platforms. But you’ll be hearing much more about how 10g now comes with broad support for SOA, XML and grid computing platforms.

Trash-talking competitors’ products is a proud tradition in the
technology industry. But that it is seeping into presentations about SOA adoption along with its cousin, Web services , tells us that the shift away from
client-server architecture to truly distributed computing systems is picking up speed as more products that support these systems hit the market. In the process, it is changing the rules for all the major enterprise software providers in the industry, especially for makers of databases and tools development.

Erin Joyce is executive editor of

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