Ellison Trumpets Client-Server

In his Monday evening keynote address here at Comdex, Larry Ellison, chairman and CEO of Oracle, said he believes that for the past five years the computer industry has been making a "fundamental mistake" by creating PCs that are "more powerful and more complex."

Ellison told the audience that the industry must continue to take applications that have traditionally resided on PCs, and migrate them to Internet servers, which can power simple appliances that use little more than a browser. In support of his vision, Ellison also revealed that Oracle and Compaq are collaborating on a Net appliance which is due to appear next month through distribution partners.

"Over the last five years... applications have been migrating off of desktop computers and on to big Internet computers," Ellison said.

The primary advantage of this client-server computing model, or what Ellison called "the PC becoming a network computer," is that the current multitude of PC configurations could become standardized.

Ellison said, that in the case of the PC, to have "a unique hardware, software and data configuration" for each unit exemplifies an industry-wide problem of system interoperability that spans well beyond personal computers.

"The problem with every computer being unique, is that no one's really ever tested that configuration before. Every Sony television is exactly the same, that's why they are reliable, they're tested, they are exactly the same," said Ellison.

"There are millions of permutations -- hardware, software and data -- on these personal computer systems, and they're incredibly unreliable because they are impossible to test."

Ellison said the industry must move away from the notion that every PC should be unique, to the idea that "every PC is exactly the same, so they are true appliances."

"Every other industry in the world works very hard to make the products coming off the assembly line all the same, except computing, where they say we'll configure this thing any way you want to," Ellison said, calling the method a "fundamental flaw."

"You don't distribute complexity, you don't put complexity in as many places as possible," explained Ellison, adding that "we're on the way to converting that desktop personal computer into an appliance as quickly as possible."

Ellison was joined onstage by Michael Capellas, CEO of Houston, Texas-based Compaq Computer, which will team with Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle to deliver by year's end a Compaq Proliant DL360 two-way server, which will run on Oracle9I Application Server, Ellison said. The idea behind the device is that it will arrive on customers' doorsteps with its hardware and software pre-configured, pretested and preinstalled, according to Ellison.

At the moment, the appliance is aimed at "very small customers," but over time the device should be able to be used in large operations such as Oracle itself, Ellison said. He expects Oracle will start running the appliances within its own organization within the next few months, with the company fully embracing the devices in "a year or so," he added.

The appliance uses what Ellison dubbed an "anonymous operating system," though he did reveal it incorporates pieces of Sun Microsystems' Solaris Unix operating and a version of the Linux open-source operating system.

Sun and Hewlett-Packard are likely to shortly make similar Net appliances with Oracle, according to Ellison.

Ellison opened the keynote to audience questions, and the first was regarding a recent tale that the high-spirit CEO had crashed his jet fighter into the Oracle headquarters parking lot and died.

He said he is now "feeling much better."

(Clare Haney is the San Francisco bureau chief for the IDG News Service, an InfoWorld affiliate. Nancy Weil is a Boston correspondent at IDG News Service, an InfoWorld affiliate.)

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