Oracle’s Raw Iron to Run Directly on Server Hardware

Oracle Corp. is pressing further into the territory of the operating system. Oracle chairman and CEO Larry Ellison discussed a project code-named "Raw Iron" at Comdex Fall that enables the company’s database software to run directly on server hardware without a general purpose operating system in between.

LAS VEGAS -- Oracle Corp. is pressing further into the territory of the operating system. Oracle chairman and CEO Larry Ellison discussed a project code-named "Raw Iron" at Comdex Fall that enables the company’s database software to run directly on server hardware without a general purpose operating system in between.

The project is Oracle’s second recent assault on Microsoft Corp.’s Windows NT operating system. In September, Oracle coupled a file system with the upcoming version of its database, Oracle8i. Known as iFS for Internet file system, it allows the storage of many proprietary Microsoft formats, such as Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, along with Oracle data.

By picking his Nov. 16 keynote speech to unveil the Raw Iron project, Ellison timed the announcement for the same day as Microsoft’s heavily promoted launch of SQL Server 7.0, a major upgrade of its flagship database.

"We are not going into the general operating system business," Ellison said. Raw Iron is targeted at servers dedicated to running Oracle databases and would eliminate the need for running Windows 2000, which is expected to have an excessive amount of coding, Ellison said. He estimated about half of the servers running Oracle are dedicated database servers.

Oracle recently declared the Internet and e-commerce its primary strength and refocused its marketing efforts to reflect that. The operating system within Raw Iron would allow the kinds of connections necessary to accommodate Internet business applications, company officials say.

The idea is to create a plug-and-run server to be available in the first half of 1999, following the availability of Oracle8i by the end of this year. Raw Iron would run on top of "streamlined micro-kernels" as opposed to "full-blown" operating systems such as Windows NT, company representatives say. The micro-kernels of the operating system have not yet been designed, Ellison acknowledged. That part of the job will probably be handled by a third-party vendor, he said.

Oracle also plans for Raw Iron to be self-configuring and to allow for simple plugging in of additional hardware such as storage devices, processors or memory. Oracle is in discussions with Intel Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., Sun Microsystems Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. about OEM partnerships.

Merv Adrian, an analyst with Giga Information Group (Cambridge, Mass.), says the fact that he can float an idea and see how it plays is a measure of Ellison’s clout in the industry.

"It’s kind of classic marketing by press release here. Nobody’s built one of these yet. We don’t have a delivery date yet," Adrian says. "I think this is more about trying to move the market by raising interesting and potentially valuable ideas."