At first glance it looks like an odd-pairing. Oracle is a software company trying to grow its lackluster hardware sales, using technology from its acquisition of Sun Microsystems. Dell, also trying to get its hardware sales to rebound, is expanding into software following its acquisitions of Quest, SonicWall and other companies. Heated competition would seem inevitable. And yet this week the two companies unveiled an alliance through which Oracle will provide its business-critical software to run on Dell's x86 servers, offering partners and customers integrated hardware/software solutions. Oracle is working to phase out the x86 commodity server products it inherited when it bought Sun, focusing instead on its Engineered Systems that combine Oracle software with high-performance servers. The Dell deal will help it do that while maintaining an x86-based route to market for its software products. And Dell gets high-value software that helps it distinguish its server products in a competitive market. Strange bedfellows? Maybe. But this deal is a good example of thinking outside of the box -- or the server -- for both companies.