IBM STG Trip Report: Hardware-Software Synergy Yielding Dividends

Every year in the fourth quarter, IBM assembles its Systems & Technology Group (STG – the hardware guys) executives for discussions with the analyst community to review results and discuss the year ahead. STG’s Senior VP Rod Adkins teed up this year’s meeting with a reminder that STG and Software Group (SWG) both now report to Steve Mills, SVP and Group Executive – Software & Systems. This change naturally suggests the possibilities for increased synergies between the two parts of IBM, and although much collaboration has been in place over the years, IBM’s attention to leveraging the opportunity has clearly come into sharper focus. The interaction was a recurrent theme. Read more of this post

IBM’s IOD Showcases DB2, Informix, InfoSphere. Now, About Marketing….

It was hard to decide where to look first in Las Vegas this year at IBM’s flagship information management event. Coming as it did on the heels of a massive, sprawling Oracle Open World, it was also overwhelming, but distinguished itself immediately by its focus. Whereas Oracle has smashed together hardware systems, apps, middleware, java and development, systems management and database into a bewildering multi-site show, IBM continues to run separate events for Websphere, Rational, Tivoli, and Lotus. No single IBM event trumpets “we’re the biggest,” and they don’t take over the towns they’re in; the content seems a bit more manageable. And as an attendee who hopes to get a broad view, I’m happy with that. However, as I’ll discuss below, Oracle is winning the messaging war nonetheless.

There was indeed talk of systems at IoD this year, as Smart Analytics Systems got a refresh and some added units on x-based platforms. Flash memory additions to the x-based 5600, bundling InfoSphere and Cognos along with an updated Linux release, provide the basis for a good story along with more cores, memory and storage. A similar story is possible for the POWER-based 7700, which also added the new Blue Darter solid state disk (SSD.) And the z audience gets the 9600, with its sidecar, the transparent offload to the Smart Analytics Optimizer. Yes, IBM has a column-based database, with innovative storage tweaks and an optimizer that knows when to use it and when not to. Great promise there.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Try this: ask 10 IT people what Exadata is, and what Smart Analytics Systems are. Ask them who makes the offerings, and what they do. Go ahead…I’ll wait….

Back? OK. Here’s what I learned, after doing that experiment at 3 events attended by IT people (data people, in fact.) 8 of 10 I asked knew Oracle makes Exadata and it’s a wicked fast platform for data. 4 of 10 knew who makes the other one, and fewer knew why. On visibility and buzz, game Oracle.

There is much more to talk about, and visibility and buzz are not everything. IBM’s numbers continue to be good, and nobody in Armonk is complaining. But the IBM Software brand needs to get more attention, more investment, and a tighter, more focused story. The good news? Conversations I’ve been having suggest that it will in 2011, and it’s about time. Read more of this post

Oracle’s Exadata Refresh Ups Ante on Technology and Selling Strategy

The Exadata marketing story is unrelenting, and Oracle backed it with plenty of happy customers for analysts to query at Open World this year. The stories were compelling; I’ll mention a few below. In the analyst pitch, we were shown a couple of dozen logos – good for a still relatively new high-end, long sales cycle, longer still production ramp up, product. The numbers are not Teradata rates yet, but CEO Larry Ellison claims a $1.5B pipeline.  Whether you believe it or don’t, he’s telling the world – and if he misses by much, Wall Street will spank the stock, so personally I doubt that he’s pushing too far past his real expectations. The big news, of course, was a refresh of the product itself, as Oracle gets deeper into the power of leveraging hardware and software design together. Read more of this post

EMC Jumps Into ADBMS Appliance Game

The Data Computing Appliance, first deliverable from EMC’s acquisition of Greenplum, was announced last month, only 75 days after the acquisition closed, and it doesn’t lack for ambition.  Pat Gelsinger, President and Chief Operating Officer, EMC Information Infrastructure, pointed to the high level opportunity: unlocking the “hidden value” of enormous and growing data assets every company is increasingly holding, and often failing to leverage. The appliance will reach many hitherto untapped resources in the data centers that EMC occupies. Adding EMC’s manufacturing, sales and marketing, and reference architectures to the Greenplum IP brings what Gelsinger calls Greenplum’s “first phase” to its completion. And begins what is likely to be a sizable battle with Oracle, Teradata and IBM, if EMC mounts campaigns and spending to match its ambitious vision. Read more of this post

Database Benchmarks – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Yes, I know – not everyone believes database benchmarks are useful. My position is that there is value in benchmarks’ role in helping engineers wring out bottlenecks, bugs and performance impediments in their products. Berni Schiefer, Technical Executive , Information Management Performance and Benchmarks for DB2, MDM and SolidDB, recently told me that “every time we run [TPC-C] we are astonished at how effectively it hammers every element of the system. We always find bugs, room for tuning. It’s the nastiest, most punishing combination there is.” Read more of this post

EMC Buys Greenplum – Big Data Realignment Continues

EMC’s acquisition of Greenplum, announced today as a cash transaction, reaffirms the obvious: the Big Data tsunami upends conventional wisdom. It has already reshaped the market, spawning the most ferment in the RDBMS (and non-R DBMS via the noSQL players) space in years. When I first posted on Greenplum over a year ago, I said that

Open source + capital has created an intriguing new model of rapid innovation in “mature” markets, and the database space – like BI – is not a done deal. It is indeed possible to escape the gravity well, if you execute. Greenplum is getting it done, and is among the new stars to watch.”

Why the open source reference? Greenplum uses a parallelization layer atop PostgreSQL (like Aster, another of the new breed of ADBMS.)

Now EMC has written the next chapter in that story. In the process, it adds a new piece (after literally dozens of others in the past few years) to its own portfolio, which already includes unstructured data (via Documentum) and virtualization (via VMWare), layered in among the industry-leading storage and information management pieces. Disruptive? You bet. Is EMC finished? I doubt it. Candidates? BI tools, ETL, MDM, data integration come to mind. Losers? At least one big one. Read on. Read more of this post

Oracle Exadata: Early Signs Promising

Exadata is looking good. In the past few months, I’ve had the chance to talk to several early adopters of Oracle Exadata V2, some in connection with a sponsored white paper Oracle has just published. It’s still early, but I see this product as a milestone, regardless of its commercial success. That is still to be determined, although I wouldn’t bet against it. How it will be affected by Oracle’s execution of the Sun acquisition is another open question, and the recent surprise layoffs, which showed that either the announced expectations were laughably off base or Ellison’s early announcements about  hiring plans were less than candid, don’t bode too well for the near term. Rob Enderle made some strong and provocative points in his guest post here. Read more of this post

Oracle’s TPC Assertions Don’t Help Its Credibility

Oracle has been making much of its recent benchmark results. Its new TPC campaign may backfire, however; its deceptive assertions do it no credit, and obscure some interesting technical advances (such as its first use of flash technology) behind mislabeling and deliberate omission of important facts. The “benchmark wars” are far less active than they were in their heyday, when new leapfrogging results occurred quarterly, or even more often. TPC-C, the transaction processing measure, has long been understood to be a poor representation of today’s real transaction types. At various times, most of the DBMS vendors have stopped issuing them – but they come back when they think they can get a headline or two. Some hardware vendors have also been dismissive of the benchmark; in fact, until this one, Sun had been a skeptic for a number of years. Read more of this post

Oracle on Database: It’s On. And They’re Not Kidding.

Oracle is the company that led the industry into making RDBMS the data persistence vehicle of choice, and though its flagship is still Number One, many other topics floated around as 35,000 people attended Oracle Open World (OOW) in San Francisco recently. The spotlight stayed firmly planted: “What will Larry say about clouds/IBM/Fusion apps?”; Marc Benioff and Larry; Arnold and Larry. But if there’s anything Larry Ellison is passionate about, even as he sets his sights on IBM (hardware) and SAP (apps) – his two most important competitors, he said at the Churchill Club recently – it’s database, and he’s energized by the appliance opportunity. Andy Mendelsohn, SVP of Database Server Technologies put it simply in a conversation: “the only product Larry has spoken of in the last 3 earnings calls is Exadata.” He is more involved than in recent years, and that means one thing: everyone else had better watch out. What analysts learned about the new release makes that very clear: Oracle has been busy, and there is a lot of exciting new technology coming. Read more of this post

My Best Decision Today: Skipping Larry’s Fusion Speech

It’s been a good Oracle Open World so far, unless you wanted some exciting news about Fusion Apps. All the cyberworld was a-twitter (pun intended) about that during the run-up to the event. If that’s what you wanted, sorry – the payoff couldn’t have been flatter if the Governator had run over it with one of his Hummers. (More likely his wife would have done it while illegally talking on her cell phone.) There was a great theme this year: “Come With Questions. Leave With Answers.” Yup. And the answer was: “Wait till next year.” Read more of this post

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