Intel, Oracle Stand Tall in Changing Landscape

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted May 13, 2009


You could blame it on the weak economy or credit it to the increasing reach of social networking and its inherent impact. Or you could believe that an open window often also means a closed door. The latter is becoming increasing clear this month, as past giants officially become icons of the past and a new paradigm seems ever closer to dominating. Virtually Speaking: As venerable stalwarts, like SGI and Borland, and young companies, like Virtual Iron, are going extinct, some of the big guns are evolving and holding the line.

Yes, that sounds like a tall order for a single month — especially a month that isn't even half over — but consider that in the past two weeks: Rackable Systems purchased SGI (though apparently the SGI name was worth the 42.5 million it paid), Micro Focus snapped up the once-venerable Borland (farewell Turbo Pascal, haven't thought of you in years), and then there's Sun Microsystems, which will soon become part of Oracle's machine.

Oracle, to its credit, is shaping up to be one of the most relevant of the "old timers." Despite its planned acquisition of Sun raising some eyebrows, it is looking to the future as today's announcement of its intent to purchase Virtual Iron this summer indicates.

The fact that Virtual Iron has been picked up is not the least bit surprising. The only surprise is that it took as long as it did. It's interesting, but not overly surprising that Oracle is nimble enough reinvent itself. It is yet another sign that increasingly mature plantings are filling the virtualization landscape.

If that's not enough evidence that the landscape is being replanted, consider that even the U.S. government, whose technology for at least the past decade has moved at the glacial pace typically associated with bureaucracy is dipping "Its Toes into the Cloud Computing Water".

With all the press cloud computing has been getting, it's important to bear in mind that some products are intended to keep their feet on the ground, and virtualization is not limited to the x86 world.

Intel's Itanium is a prime example of this. In 2005, the IT press and punditry were all but singing funeral dirges for the beleaguered processor. Partly in response to that, the Itanium Solutions Alliance was born. Today, the 200-plus member community consists of ISVs, OS vendors, software integrators and hardware vendors. The key players remains the OEMs, however, President and Executive Director Joan Jacobs told ServerWatch. Since processors are the underlying component of any hardware purchased, it behooves them to be heavily involved in promoting it.

For anyone still questioning Itanium's viability consider this: While mainframe and RISC systems made up a scant 5 percent of systems shipped in 2008 according to IDC, they account for nearly 50 percent of revenue. Itanium considers itself to be a mainframe equivalent or a mainframe migration destination. (The mainframe vendors may beg to differ, but that's a debate for another day.)

These are scale-up solutions. The are not meant for cloud computing and they do not support x86 virtualization. Which means in these days of commoditization and economizing they aren't getting a lot of attention.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, however. Being quiet is not the same thing as being stagnant, and the Alliance is aware of the need to adapt a changing marketplace, as is evident in its shift from a focus "on meeting vertical market needs" to a more horizontal approach that meets end-user needs. It has its eye on data center consolidation and mainframe migrations.

The former is also the sweet spot for cloud computing and virtualization, so it will be interesting to watch this space in the coming months as enterprises choose whether to scale up (with Itanium) or out (with cloud). In many cases the deciding factor may have little to do technology itself and be more about costs or security. However, the technology choices will in the end determine the computing landscape of the future and how these opposing technologies will coexist, if indeed there is no winner-take-all.

Sometimes change is incremental and slow, and sometimes it seems to happen at warp speed. No matter how slow it goes on, though, there is an inevitable watershed moment where the new begins to dominate. Sometimes that moment is far clearer in hindsight than when it is occurring.

May 2009 turn out to be one of those pivotal points.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been covering virtualization space since 2001, and is coauthoring a book about virtualization that is scheduled for publication in October 2009.

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