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Oracle VM machine promised

Charles Phillips telegraphs plans for Oracle unified data center server to take on Cisco and HP.

An Oracle VM machine is on its way, according to Oracle President Charles Phillips, but it seems unlikely that the beleaguered Sun hardware channel will be able to sell it.

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The company's planned Oracle VM machine will knit together a server with integrated network switch and storage arrays as well as Oracle VM, Oracle VM Manager and preconfigured templates "ready to deploy," Phillips said on the fourth-quarter earnings call on Thursday.

Despite well-documented pain inflicted on the Sun Microsystems hardware channel, Oracle Corp. claimed respectable hardware sales numbers last week and even telegraphed the advent of new Oracle hardware coming down the pike. Sun hardware sales contributed $400 million to Oracle's operating income in the fourth quarter 2009, the first full quarter of Oracle's ownership of Sun.

There was no additional detail on the virtualization-in-a-can product, but Oracle has piqued the interest of many shops with its high-end Oracle Exadata database machine, which VARs can sell only on a one-off basis. Most of those sales are expected to go direct and Oracle partners expect the same to be true of the new hardware.

As for the notion of a VM machine, it's a sound one, according to Oracle VARs.

"Everyone we talk to is experimenting with or has already implemented virtual machines and [virtualization] is an area [where] Oracle has lagged," said Scott Jenkins, CEO of The EBS Group, an Oracle partner out of Lenexa, Kan.

He and others see even a nebulous promise of an Oracle VM machine as a response to unified data center hardware efforts by Hewlett-Packard and Cisco. "What HP and VMware are doing in particular is gaining momentum, and Oracle's value proposition is 'hey, you may pay a lot for a big database machine, but you get everything,'" Jenkins added.

And customers do pay. A lot. The Sun-based Exadata version 2 machines easily cost $1 million, as Oracle CEO Larry Ellison pointed out on the earnings call, but they integrate Oracle Linux, a database and related middleware. They are multiprocessor Intel-based boxes, which begs the question of if and when Oracle will deliver SPARC and Sun Solaris-based versions.

Sun and Oracle VARs that service large accounts all say they've fielded customer inquiries on Exadata, although very few have sold any or even seen them in the field.

It's also unclear how many customers will pay that freight along with Oracle's service and maintenance on these machines.

Ellison said the company's order pipeline for Sun Exadatas going into its new fiscal year is nearly $1 billion. The new machines go beyond the data warehousing focus of Exadata Version 1, an HP-built machine, into online transaction processing (OLTP). He also claimed that big Exadata wins against IBM's biggest servers in even some of the "bluest shops." Oracle sold Exadata to Bank of America, Carrefour, the large European retailer, and Thomson Reuters, he said.

There is undoubtedly interest in the raw power of such machines, especially in "extreme transaction processing applications," said another Oracle partner, who did not want to be identified. "But that is not a huge market. The cost of getting to this extreme transaction processing will be two to three times what they're paying now and how many people will spend that money? Not that many," he said.

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