Thursday, October 26, 2006

Oracle Offers Linux

Today at Oracle World, Larry Ellison announced that Oracle would offer Linux maintenance and support services. This offer supports Charles Phillips' earlier keynote message (in reference to software generally, not Linux specifically):

"We want to change the ownership experience completely. We are trying to systematically reduce risk, systematically reduce cost, and improve the experience of owning software."

We will all have to wait and see if Oracle emerges as a credible provider of a general purpose operating system. They are clearly the market leader for general purpose database technology, so they definitely have the skills to handle complex technical products. However, Oracle has not distinguished themselves in other similar general purpose infrastructure categories. In the case of application servers, Oracle mostly provides technology in support of their application deployments. How many deployments of Oracle application servers exist absent a deployment of Oracle applications?

There are also many unanswered technical questions regarding how Oracle will provide Linux maintenance. Oracle claims they are going to follow the Red Hat maintenance stream, but they also claim they are going to issue patches to customers independent of Red Hat. When Oracle patches a system for a customer, and Red Hat subsequently provides a patch that conflicts with the Oracle approach, how will the conflict be resolved?

Red Hat systems rely on a maintenance packaging approach (the Red Hat Package Manager or rpm) that assumes a single maintenance stream from a single vendor. The naming convention for rpm combined with the approach for handling dependency metadata will make it very difficult for Oracle to insert themselves into the maintenance process in a manner that provides the best Linux technology offered by both Red Hat and Oracle separately. It is more likely that a customer move to the Oracle maintenance stream will be a permanent move because the resulting system will quickly become incompatible with Red Hat maintenance. Perhaps the Oracle system will be better. We will have to wait and see.

Independent of the technical challenges that Oracle’s approach will present for customers, Oracle’s embrace of Linux demonstrates the power of open source as a competitive weapon. Any company can use Linux to serve their specific application or business purpose. Here are just a few examples of companies that provide Linux to their customers in support of a complete software experience:

- Google provides Linux as part of the Google mini search appliance

- EMC provides Linux as part of its Centera content addressed storage solution

- Cisco provides Linux as part of its Unified CallManager product

- Agami Systems provides Linux as part of its Information Server to achieve record breaking NAS throughput

- Digium provides Linux as part of their Asterisk Business Edition VOIP solution to enable hassle-free deployment and maintenance by their customers and channels.

- Ingres provides Linux as part of their project Icebreaker database software appliance.

These companies all provide Linux in order to deliver greater value to their customers. Oracle has now decided that they also want to ship Linux in support of their unique business objectives. The lesson from all of these examples is the same – the freedom of Linux can provide competitive advantage. How will you use it to improve your business?


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