IBM Defends DB2 Against Ellison’s Derogatory Remarks

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Bernie Spang, IBM’s director of product strategy, criticises some of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s remarks about IBM’s DB2 database software.

Oracle CEO and co-founder, America’s Cup enthusiast, serial entrepreneur and multibillionaire Larry Ellison has never been afraid of expressing himself. He proved it again on 27 January at the Oracle+Sun Microsystems road map and strategy event on the Oracle campus.


During his hour-long series of remarks about the inclusion of Sun in Oracle’s domain, the state of the IT database and data centre market, and his interest in buying the Golden State Warriors, Ellison threw several rhetorical spears at Oracle’s biggest competitor and role model, IBM.

Of course, Ellison is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which states – among other things – that Congress shall enact no law impinging upon freedom of speech. Thus, like millions of other US citizens, Ellison is free to express whatever opinions he has on any topic.

However, unlike most citizens, he is a legitimate public figure and newsmaker, and members of the media tend to take note of what he has to say.

Whether everything he says is completely objective is often a point of discussion, to put it mildly. IBM, for one, wasn’t impressed with Ellison’s remarks about its data centre products – especially about its front-line enterprise database, DB2.

“Someone said they should have called his routine ‘Larry the Fable Guy,'” Bernie Spang, IBM’s director of product strategy, told eWEEK in a play on words about a second-tier comedian who purports to be a cable TV technician. “I can’t believe some of the stupid – and ignorant – things he said.”

Here are some of the statements about IBM that Ellison made before a full house of about 500 people and an undoubtedly large webcast audience, followed by IBM’s (via Spang) reaction to each:

Ellison: “IBM DB2 is good on mainframes, the best in the world. Oracle is good on everything else – x86 and all others. It’s too bad DB2 can’t run on modern machines. Can’t scale either – the most [instances] you can have of DB2 is one.”

Spang: “DB2 demonstrated in benchmarks and customer situations that it can scale up to 100 nodes as far back as 1995. That’s on Unix systems. Last year, in December ’09, we introduced a new capability called PureScale. That demonstrates scaling out on our Power systems; scaling out to 128 members is what we’ve demonstrated in the lab. It’s new, so we don’t have customer stories yet.

“We’ve talked publicly about the fact that at 64 nodes, we have 95 percent scalability – or efficiency – in the system [meaning 5 percent of throughput is used for system overhead, the rest for handling workloads]. Even up at 128 nodes, 84 percent [efficiency]. Oracle has never published such numbers for their Real Application [Testing] product.

“[This is probably] because there is a profound difference in the amount of system overhead [needed] to run Oracle RAC [Real Application Clusters] versus running our new DB2 PureScale, which is based on the same design of DB2 on the mainframe, on System z.”

Ellison: “I can’t understand why IBM has never come out with a database machine. DB2 doesn’t cluster, doesn’t scale, nothing. You cannot run an OLTP [online transaction processing] application on DB2, because it doesn’t scale.”

Spang: “Let’s talk about the TPC-C [Transaction Processing Performance Council] benchmark. Over the last seven years, DB2 has been in the leadership position about twice as long as Oracle. This game with benchmarks is a leapfrog game. Companies use the latest hardware, [the results improve] and it depends on point in time. What really matters is looking over a period of time for the consistency in the leadership position. So seven years, about twice as many days in the leadership position [over Oracle].

“I’ll give you another one close to a real-world situation: In the three-tiered SAP benchmark, DB2 [on Power systems] has held the record there for almost five years now, doing more than 50 million SAP steps per hour.

“Let’s talk about the SAP apps themselves. Just last year we announced that more than 100 companies had switched from Oracle to DB2 to power their SAP applications. The stories we hear are: better performance – in the range of 20 percent better – while reducing costs 30 to 40 percent. Coca-Cola Bottling was one that was quoted back then, talking about migrating from Sun servers to Power systems. It just made sense to them from a money point of view.

“Larry also said something else: That the

uncertainty about Sun systems was just a blip [due to the acquisition process]. Well, Coca-Cola pointed out that they have been switching from Sun to Power systems over a number of years.

“I would argue that the uncertainty about Sun systems versus IBM accelerated a trend, and frankly, the uncertainty remains.”

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