Oracle Expounds on Raw Iron

Oracle Corp.’s CEO Larry Ellison has a plan to create a version of the Oracle8i database, code-named Raw Iron, that could run without relying on a general purpose operating system. At the time of his initial pronouncement at Fall Comdex, some analysts said the announcement was a trial balloon designed to gauge interest in such a product.

But Ellison is following through on his plan. In early December he announced that Raw Iron will be available in March, and that it will rely on core technology from Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris operating system to handle low-level interaction between the database and the server hardware. "We're using Solaris core technology that the user won't see," Ellison explained. "They won't have to buy an OS or maintain or tune an OS. Everything will be preconfigured."

Although the progress may have quieted critics who accused Ellison of peddling vaporware, it hasn't convinced some analysts of the value of this product. During and after the December press conference, several analysts raised questions about the Raw Iron plan. In an analysis released shortly after the announcement, for example, Zona Research Inc. questioned whether notoriously finicky Unix systems administrators would be interested in a server running an OS they can't touch. "It is unclear how much value this bundling and configuration deal provides to the serious Unix-head," Zona's analysts wrote. "The information appliance model has worked extremely well for network storage products, but school is out on how well it applies to the Unix community's large database server needs."

On the other hand, due to the existing compatibilities of Solaris, Raw Iron will be able to run on Sun's 64-bit SPARC servers, as well as both 32- and 64-bit Intel servers. As a result, Oracle will be offering customers a database that runs on Intel-based servers, can store Windows-based files -- using Oracle's Internet File System -- and relies on a version of the most widely used Unix operating system kernel but without requiring knowledge of Unix system administration. "When you use Oracle in this environment, you won't be able to complain that Solaris is hard to use because you won't be able to see it," said Sun’s CEO Scott McNealy. Given these specifications, the product seems squarely targeted at Ellison and McNealy's arch nemesis, namely Microsoft’s CEO Bill Gates, rather than at existing Unix users.

In exchange for the technology, Oracle will allow Sun to embed Oracle8i components into a future version of Solaris. "We're doing a free exchange of technology," McNealy said.

Ellison has mentioned additional details about the forthcoming product, which he called a "database server appliance." On the sales and licensing front, he said that Raw Iron will cost the same per user as "vanilla" Oracle. He also said the product will be sold by the existing Oracle database sales force. Oracle plans to make available at least three versions of the server appliance -- one for e-mail, one for replacing a Windows file server and one with full database capability. Ellison said a number of server vendors, including Compaq Computer Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. will be shipping this product. Neither company, however, had made any announcements to that effect as this issue went to press.