Dell and Oracle expand partnership


7 Apr 2003

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NEW YORK: On an unseasonably cold day in Manhattan last week, Michael Dell (pictured) and Larry Ellison of Oracle outlined their plans to grab a bigger slice of the enterprise server market. Open standards, lower costs and scalability were the order of the day.

The two companies announced that they were expanding their strategic alliance. The new arrangement brings the partnership into markets outside the US, with Europe included. In addition to the global sales agreement, new low-cost configurations of Dell servers with Oracle 9i Database will be offered along with jointly-delivered services.

The two companies already have more than 22,000 Oracle-on-Dell installations in place, with customers such as Electronic Arts and Mercedes Benz already on board. Last week’s announcement broadens the existing Dell-Oracle US sales agreement for Oracle 9i Database and Oracle 9i Application Server to Europe and Asia.

The companies also introduced lower cost clusters with the stated aim of making it affordable for customers of all sizes to adopt the Dell-Oracle solution. Solutions will start at US$18k, with Dell offering a server/storage platform optimised for Oracle 9i Database with Real Application Clusters for both Red Hat Linux Advanced Server and Microsoft Windows environments.

In another plank to the agreement, Dell Services is partnering with Oracle Consulting to offer a suite of professional services. The companies stated that these new services aimed to reduce costs and ease deployment issues for customers migrating from proprietary, legacy database architecture to Oracle.

“Economic conditions have actually accelerated the shift to standards-based systems for a larger portion of the computing market,” said Michael Dell, chief executive of Dell. “Dell’s vision for the future is grounded in our customers’ primary needs to protect existing investments, increase the flexibility of their infrastructure, maximise choice and help lower the total cost of computing,” he added.

Dell characterised the current server situation as a three-tier architecture. The first tier consisted of web services and file, with the second taking care of application servers. The third handled core functions such as customer relationship management, financials, application consolidation and database. It’s this third area that Dell and Oracle are currently pitching for. Traditionally associated with 16-way or 32-way reduced instruction set computer and Unix systems, Dell aims to compete with clustered two- and four-way machines, taking on the proprietary solutions providers with a standards-based Linux and Intel offering.

Oracle’s Ellison was reading from the same hymn sheet, claiming that clustered or grid servers are the way forward. “If you’re running your application on a single database server, that’s a single point of failure,” he said. “If you’re running it on 24 servers, if one goes down, you’ve got 23 left. The system is highly reliable because it can tolerate component failures,” he added.

Cost effectiveness was another theme Ellison tackled with typical irascibility. “One of the most shocking things in switching to a grid arrangement is that if you want higher performance you’ve got to be willing to spend less money,” he said.

While Dell and Ellison were able to back their pitch with figures on the performance and cost elements of the offering, they were on shakier ground when it came to management tools. Analysts at the event argued that while clustered server systems worked well with vertical applications such as databases, serious management tools were needed for more horizontal applications. Dell hedged on the issue, talking about going to great lengths to build tools and calling for more co-operation in the industry. Ellison was a little more forthcoming. Oracle, he said, had set out to completely revamp its management tools 18 months ago and had made its clustered file system open source as a contribution to further development. However, he predicted that management would be the next ‘choke point’ in the sector’s development.

For Dell, the news follows a pattern set of late by the company. It has entered into a number of high profile partnership agreements recently and the perception is that the company is using them to move up the value chain. Indeed, Dell used the press conference to also announce that it had begun manufacturing Dell/EMC CX200 storage systems itself. It had also introduced new entry-level storage area network bundles specifically designed for small to medium-sized enterprises. According to Michael Dell, this meant that the company could pass on significant cost savings to the customer.

Throughout a two-day event, Dell hammered home a relatively homogenous message. In these troubled economic times, customers were looking for to lower their costs without losing out on performance. Hitching its wagon to open standards, it argued that large systems built with modular components was the way ahead. Time will tell if the company’s made a sound bet.

By Dick O’Brien