Monday, October 12, 2009

The return of The Scott And Larry Show

Waiting for the keynote to start, the screens loop an animation of stacked cubes labeled "Database","Applications", "Infrastructure" etc unfurling themselves into strands of little cubes which click-clack across the screen and then reform into the big cube. The effect is like a 3D version of the old skool game, Snake, in which you have to direct an ever-elongating python so it swallows mice, spiders and other small creatures.

So anyway, on comes Scott McNealy in a sweater he describes as being "Oracle maroon". I think Open World has missed Scott.. He was one of the few keynote speakers who you could rely on to entertain as well as inform. He kicked off with a Top Ten of Signs Engineers Have Gone Wild. Alongside things like OS2 and USB drives shaped like sushi he had the iPhone user interface. That was an odd choice, because the iPhone is game-changing device and its interface is a marvel of engineering in the service of design.

His next top ten were Sun Innovations. This included SPARC, Java, CoolThreads, NFS and Project Blackbox. It also included "Open Source software" which is debatable. But even if it is true, it highlights Sun's problem: Java was innovative, it was a game-changer and it is ubiquitous. Unfortunately Sun failed to make much - if any - money from Java. Nobody can accuse Steve Jobs of failing to capitalise on the iPhone's innovatory qualities.

The rest of Scott's session was devoted to reassuring us (and him?) that Sun's legacies would thrive under Oracle. James Gosling came on to tell us that most of Oracle's biggest selling products, the Apps and Middleware, are just "big bags of Java". Then John Fowler laid the groundwork for the last section of the keynote. Sun systems are now number one in seven key commercial benchmarks - OLTP, Oracle BI, SAP etc - because Sun has an integrated computing infrastructure, and because they address efficiency as well as performance. The latest Sun drive is the 1.8TB F5100, a Flash drive which has a capacity equivalent to thousands of disks and runs at a mere 300 watts.

This was all by way of introduction to Larry Ellison. Larry's brief was to address head-on IBM's campaign of FUD directed at Sun customers. They are going to invest more in SPARC, in Solaris, even in MySQL. "We think we can make MySQL a better product and we think we can make some money along the way." Addressing the question of servers and storage, he cited an interesting comparison: Apple. Apple have solved the problem of combining hardware and software and this enables them to deliver products which are clearly differentiated from those of their competitors, who are often consortia.

Together Sun and Oracle have the strength to "beat the giant". That is, IBM. Larry then unveiled the headlines of their attempt on IBM's TPC-C benchmark record. The Sun/Oracle cluster had almost 25% more throughput, with a response times which was two hundred times faster. The Sun/Oracle challenger consisted of nine racks in a fault-tolerant configuration, whereas IBM used a behemoth of seventy-six racks which had single points of failure. To top it off, the IBM configuration used six times as much electricity ("Now we know why IBM's microprocessor is called 'Power'", quipped Larry, although I'm not sure the per machine usage quite justifies that zinger).

Larry rounded off by announcing a $10million challenge: your application will run two times faster on Sun and Oracle than it does on IBM, or you win ten million dollars. This is an interesting development: IBM are big Oracle customers, not to mention partners in many areas. Also there are other manufacturers of hardware who will be monitoring the "Apple-fication" of Oracle with some nervousness.

But in the meantime we can look forward to the Grand Smackdown: Team Read versus Big Blue. It's so on.

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