Oracle’s Tough 3Q and New SPARC Chip

Almost like a good news/bad news joke, Oracle announced dismal financials last week along with the next rev of its SPARC processor. The company clearly is hoping that the new processor will revive its rapidly fading hardware business and pose some sort of challenge to IBM’s zEnterprise and Power Systems.

Hardware systems product revenue was $671 million. That’s sounds good for a quarter until you realize it was down 23% over the previous year. Ouch. Hardware systems support didn’t do much better, falling to $570 million even as Oracle’s hardware maintenance prices continued to climb, noted Timothy Sipples, who writes a blog called Mainframe.  Hardware platforms go through refresh cycles, as DancingDinosaur readers know, but Oracle has been struggling at this with Sun for three years.

Note that these figures include what Oracle calls its engineered systems like Exadata and Exalogic. These types of systems combine Oracle’s Sun hardware with its software in an optimized product. Such systems were expected to provide the synergies necessary to justify the initial Sun acquisition. And maybe they will someday, but Oracle stockholders have to be getting impatient. Along with the engineered systems was Oracle’s SPARC SuperCluster.  During that time IBM has been delivering its own highly optimized systems, hybrid systems, a new generation of  HPC systems, and expert-integrated systems.

Oracle’s 3Q report didn’t even mention its storage business, which consists mainly of StorageTek tape products and Oracle’s Sun ZFS Storage Appliance family.  By comparison, IBM has been advancing its storage offerings with products like Storwize, XIV, Real-time Compression, SSD, and more.

About the only bright spot Oracle could point to was its cloud effort. In the 3Q report it declared: “The Oracle Cloud is the most robust and comprehensive cloud platform available with services at the infrastructure (IaaS), platform (PaaS) and application (SaaS) level. In Q3, our SaaS revenue alone grew well over 100% as lots of new customers adopted our Sales, Service, Marketing and Human Capital Management applications in the Cloud,” according to Oracle President, Mark Hurd. And even here IBM has been busily building out its SmartCloud as-a-service offerings and putting them into a slew of SmarterPlanet initiatives.

From the standpoint of DancingDinosaur readers, who tend to focus on the System z, zEnterprise, and Power Systems, the most interesting part of Oracle’s recent activity is the new SPARC processor, the T5. New T5 servers can have up to eight microprocessors while Oracle’s new M5 system can be configured with up to thirty-two microprocessors. The M5 runs the Oracle database 10 times faster than the M9000 it replaces, according to Oracle. For the record, the top end zEC12 includes 101 cores. The zEC12 chip runs at 5.5 GHz.

Elizabeth Stahl, IBM’s chief technical strategist and benchmark guru, wrote this on her blog about Oracle’s T5 claims: Many of the claims are Oracle’s own benchmarks that are not published and audited. For price claims, Oracle, as they’ve done in the past, only factors in the price of the pizza box – make sure you add in the all-important software and storage. Stahl goes on to directly address Oracle’s benchmark claims here.

DancingDinosaur has been waiting for a rebound of the SPARC platform in the hopes that it might revive the Solaris on z initiative led by David Boyes and others. They actually had it working and at least one serious bank was piloting it. Lack of support from Oracle/Sun and IBM killed it. Solaris on z could have attracted Sun customers to the zEnterprise, mainly those in banking and financial services where Solaris and Sun were strong.  In case you are interested, Oracle still offers Solaris, now Oracle Solaris 11, and touts it as the first cloud OS.

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