Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is famously elusive.  It is harder to get a private meeting with him than the Pope.  Outsiders, especially reporters and analysts, have almost no chance of ever meeting him.  Only the inner circle within Oracle itself ever has a real two-way dialog with Ellison. 

There are, however, two proven ways to meet Larry Ellison in person: spend tens of millions on an Americas Cup racing yacht; or show serious interest in buying an Exadata or Exalogic server.  For most of you the latter represents your best shot. 

A database expert at one of the top-end consulting firms confirmed to me recently that Ellison and President Mark Hurd continue to make personal sales calls on important hardware prospects.  It appears as if Ellison’s highest priority as CEO continues to be to promote the hardware appliances that emerged out of the Sun acquisition.  If that means sending the boss out on the road, then so be it. 

Acquiring Sun was one of Ellison’s boldest and riskiest moves.  Even though the new Exadata/Exalogic servers that emerged from Sun’s wreckage have been a huge successes, Oracle’s share of the hardware market continues to decline.  Some of the loss has gone to one time ally HP, but the larger part of it has ended up with IBM. 

At OpenWorld 2010 Ellison relentlessly mocked IBM and quoted numerous benchmarks to support his assertion about the superior performance of his to-of-the-line appliances.  To the best of my knowledge his characterization of them was accurate.  Like almost everything Oracle does, these new products are technological wonders with very impressive specifications. 

Across the whole hardware product line IBM appears to still have an advantage.  In addition to its formidable reputation as a hardware vendor, IBM has historically built customer loyalty by providing great service and support.  In a recent letter to partners IBM bragged that it now has 37% of the total hardware market and that it is the leading source of hardware to run Oracle software with a 20% share. 

A large JDE customer I talked to recently is planning to be an early adopter of a few of the Fusion application modules.   IBM has been its preferred hardware vendor for decades but Oracle is making a full-court press to get a foot in the door with Exadata.  The customer is highly impressed with the specs for the Oracle hardware and is taking great delight in having two giant vendors fight for its business. 

The war over hardware raging between Oracle and IBM (with HP often in the mix as well) is great for our community.  Prices are dropping at a faster than usual rate and cool new capabilities such as huge flash memories at bargain prices are becoming available every few months. 

You may not get a personal visit from Larry Ellison out of it, but many of you will want to at least kick the tires on Exadata.  At the very least, you might get a better deal from IBM the next time you need more hardware capacity.