Despite Ellison remark, Oracle still a fan of x86

Meanwhile, Michael Dell says his company is 'not a PC company'

It can't be easy working for Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. Just ask John Fowler, the head of Oracle's systems business, who's spent the past two weeks trying to convince customers that Ellison didn't really mean it when he said Oracle is "phasing out" its x86 business.

"Larry made some rather 'interesting' comments about Intel, that he doesn't care a lot about the Intel server business," Fowler said in a speech at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco on Tuesday. "That, of course, led to a lot of calls to my office."

It's easy to see how the confusion arose: "I don't care if our commodity x86 business goes to zero," Ellison brashly declared on Oracle's quarterly earnings call last month. "We don't make any money selling those things."

Oracle has "no interest" in selling other companies' intellectual property, such as Intel's chips and Microsoft's OS, he said. "Sun sold that stuff, and we are phasing out that business. We have no interest in it whatsoever."

But "commodity" was the key word, according to Fowler. Oracle will continue to make x86 servers and use them as building blocks in larger systems, such as its Exadata Database Machine.

"We see Intel as a key building block to whole families of systems," Fowler said Tuesday, trying to set the record straight. "What we aren't focused on is the large-scale x86 server business running, for example, the Windows OS. Our value is around enterprise computing."

Ellison isn't the only CEO sending mixed messages. Fowler was preceded on stage by Michael Dell, who declared that "Dell is not a PC company," then went on to extol the benefits of Dell being in the PC business.

Dell is an "end-to-end solutions company," Dell said, meaning it too can sell integrated systems that combine hardware and software, through acquisitions of companies like Compellent, Boomi and SecureWorks. Dell is buying companies at a rate of eight per year, Michael Dell said.

But he also took a shot at Hewlett-Packard's decision to sell or spin off its PC business. The move would cause HP to lose its purchasing heft and wind up paying more for components like microprocessors and disks, Dell said, which it would still need to build servers.

"If you give up that scale you go from being one of the largest suppliers in the world to being not even in the top five," he said. "That creates huge problems; the price of those components goes up."

Amid a lengthy sales pitch for his company, Michael Dell shared one bit of news: In the first quarter next year, Dell will introduce its 12th generation of PowerEdge servers with a memory virtualization technology from RNA Networks, a small company it acquired earlier this year with little fanfare.

The technology will allow Dell to build bigger servers that combine 1,024 processor cores and more than 40TB of memory in a single rack, he said. "Imagine you have a data center with 10 server racks. Now imagine consolidating that to one rack," he said.

The new systems will also make greater use of flash memory, putting it as close to the CPUs as possible to create "tier zero" storage, Dell said. As flash gets cheaper and more dense, server makers are using it to store frequently accessed data instead of hard disk drives, boosting performance.

"The result is 60x faster queries" on the new PowerEdge systems, according to Dell.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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