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IBM and Oracle look to save Power and Sparc from the x86 onslaught

15/12/2014 by Sharon Shahzad


IBM and Oracle are among the few systems vendors still building hardware from the ground up based on their own processor technology. The pair are taking similar, if not identical, steps to preserve their platforms by offering capabilities that the hordes of x86 box shifters cannot provide.

Enterprise server vendors such as IBM and Oracle have faced growing challenges in recent years with declining volumes of server shipments.

At the same time, many organisations have been building private cloud infrastructure based on commodity x86 servers, rather than the high-end systems that tend to be the preserve of other processor architectures such as IBM's Power and Oracle's Sparc.

But the pair are fighting back, positioning the platforms based on their respective processor technologies as better suited for enterprise workloads, offering capabilities that x86 systems cannot match, in addition to better support and integration services.

"If you look at that space, it's under incredible pressure," said Roy Illsley, principal analyst at Ovum.

"The way x86 is developing and evolving, it's eroding the bottom end of that market away, while IBM's mainframe is nibbling away at the top end, so they've got to come up with something to convince people these are technologies to invest in, and they've both realised that this is the best way."

The two firms are not taking an identical approach. IBM is attempting to create an ecosystem around its Power platform, promoting open source software such as Linux and striking up partnerships with third parties through its OpenPower Foundation.

Oracle, meanwhile, sees the Sparc architecture inherited from Sun Microsystems as a platform for building engineered systems optimised to run its own software stack, especially the Oracle 12c database and applications based on it.

However, both are pushing capabilities such as specialised accelerators to complement the processor, saying that a carefully integrated and optimised platform can deliver better value than solutions bought off the shelf.

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