Oracle has rolled out a new high-end Sparc-based cluster server, a 16-core T3 version that seems to close off any debate about whether the company is serious about the hardware business. In fact, our rumor mill and survey data show that Oracle may be ramping up for a major effort in 2011.
Software is the only place in tech where you can really build differentiation quickly and hope to sustain it for long enough to capitalize on your success. We’ve already seen software taking a larger role in networking, and what we’re seeing with Oracle is a software company exploiting the engagement that differentiation can bring to move itself into becoming a mainstream, full-service, IT player.
The Oracle blitz would have a significant competitive impact. Both IBM and HP, the incumbent giants, are relative lightweights in software relative to HP. IBM lacks lacks any strong connection to the networking space. Oracle’s server strategy focuses on database networking via appliances and through Infiniband, which is an alternative to the much-touted Ethernet-based data center networks. That runs counter to the data center network strategies of not only IBM and HP, but of Cicso, which could impacted by a big move by Oracle into servers and data center networks for a bunch of reasons.
Then there’s SAP and of course Microsoft. SAP unveiled a new real-time data analytics appliance, showing it’s going to shift more in the hardware direction, and there are rumors that it would be going even further in that direction, even as there are rumors that HP wants to do some serious software deals in 2011.
Microsoft might be left as the only relatively pure software play, except that there are also rumors Microsoft might be looking at the appliance game, not only for database products but also for collaboration and other middleware elements. “Cloud-in-a-box” Azure-inspired technology is already sold by Microsoft partners, but Microsoft realizes that many of its hardware partners may end up being competitors if the appliance business really takes off. Still, Microsoft getting into any sort of hardware is a big risk to its current partnerships, and unless they see real stress cracks they’ll probably go slow.