LAS VEGAS--In a keynote address filled with Bill-bashing,
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison tonight outlined an initiative to bundle Oracle
8i on hardware devices dedicated to running the Internet-friendly database.
Oracle's Ellison, once the foremost
proponent of the network computer, announced a new initiative targeting
archrival Microsoft. Chairman Bill Gates gave last night's keynote address at Comdex, the computer industry's biggest trade show.
Dubbed "Raw Iron," Oracle's "server appliances" bypass Windows NT and other
operating systems by using a stripped-down operating system called a micro-kernel, essentially running Oracle's database program on hardware. They are scheduled to ship by year's end.
"This all falls under a simple umbrella. We will compete on total cost of
ownership. We can deliver a lower purchase price and higher service,"
Ellison said. The devices would run Oracle's 8i database, its Web server
and its Internet File System, which puts documents from different
applications into Oracle's database to be searched and shared with other
"We are not doing this as a marketing stunt," he added, calling it a
serious effort to reduce computing costs by simplifying management. Those
costs are rising because of a shortage of trained database administrators
and other technical talent, Ellison argued.
"The way to get around it is to simplify," he said.
Ellison mocked a recent Gates white paper posted on the Internet, which he
said described a world where applications and data would one day reside
on big computers called mega-servers.
"We agree. We're in the mega-server business," Ellison said. "Bill's vision
of the future is today's Internet. That's how the Internet works, Bill."
Oracle expects the 8i appliances to appear in three configurations, with
the smallest version starting for around $10,000 with four processors. For
large installations, the server appliances could be custom-built with more
Strategically, the new initiative is aimed in part against Microsoft, which
today is released version 7.0 of its SQL Server database. Oracle is
maneuvering on several fronts to
undermine Microsoft's position as the most important software company.
Dedicating hardware devices to run specific software applications is not a
new concept. Firewall appliances for security are offered by Cisco Systems, WatchGuard, Technologic, Data General, and TimeStep, an affiliate of Newbridge Networks. Whistle Communications makes devices
that run Web servers, email, and firewalls for smaller companies.
The foray into hardware sales mimics the early days of Ellison's NC
initiative, although Oracle's Network
Computer subsidiary now primarily markets software to run NCs and
associated servers. Since earlier this year, Ellison has backed off his almost-religious
promotion of NCs, arguing that they are part of the larger move to
networked, not desktop, computing.
Ellison said Oracle is negotiating with Dell Computer, Sun Microsystems, Compaq Computer, and Hewlett-Packard to supply hardware to be
bundled with Oracle's Internet- friendly database, due for release by year's
For a monthly fee, Oracle also will manage server
appliances remotely, through its new Business Online service, which rents
applications to customers for a fee based on the number of users.
"If the only thing you're going to run on a computer is an Oracle database,
you don't need an operating system," Ellison told reporters before his
Ellison did not specify which kernel would be used, but it won't
be Microsoft's Windows NT. Although the initial server appliances will run
on 32-bit Intel chips, the true target
is Intel's 64-bit Merced chips, and Windows NT supports only 32 bits.
"If you're only running Oracle on an Intel platform, to have NT underneath
makes no sense," he said, praising Intel's next-generation chips as
"dramatically faster." Although the number of processors per server appliance is being debated inside Oracle, Ellison favors the smallest version running on four chips, not one.
He called System 10 from Apple
Computer, where he is a board member, "a wonderful candidate operating
system." Other candidates: FreeBSD, NetBSD, Sun's Solaris, HP-UX, and Linux.
"If it's only Oraclel8i, they don't need much of an operating system,"
Ellison said. "If you're only running Oracle, you don't care what's
underneath." Oracle could swap operating systems in different generations
of the product with virtually no effect on users, he added.
"We are not going into the operating system business--we just don't think
one is necessary," Ellison said. "We think Intel [chips] can run
Oracle8i natively," meaning without an operating system.
A stripped-down operating system appeals to the hardware makers too because
it will lower their support costs, Ellison argued.
Oracle is negotiating with Exodus and
others to provide hosting services for its Business Online outsourcing