Friday, May 15, 2009

Oracle Lowers Expectations

I was floored when Oracle announced the acquisition of Sun after Sun's deal with IBM fell apart. I never saw Oracle buying Sun in a million years – too much reliance on hardware revenue. Then, Oracle announced this week that they intend to purchase Virtual Iron Software. It seems that Oracle is serious about lowering their influence in the software technology ecosystem. They are going after the lower layers of the infrastructure, and they are putting their money where their mouth is in order to put some real assets into the battle for the next generation, virtualized datacenter.

Sun provides some terrific infrastructure assets in the form of the Solaris operating system, the ZFS file system, the Java programming language, and several other lesser known projects that are nonetheless useful technology in assembling a world class datacenter infrastructure. I actually believe that Solaris is not so relevant as an operating system (too difficult to do the driver work for all the variations in X86 hardware) as it will be relevant as a collection of useful system software and engineering expertise for delivering innovation and support. If you have not seen Sun's investment in this area, do some research on the Image Packaging System. It is Sun's implementation of the rPath approach for tailoring the operating system to the needs of an application (JeOS) and providing robust lifecycle management – they even wrote it in python, not java, to make it easier to mimic rPath's features.

Virtualization is going to change the notion of the operating system, and Solaris will get torn apart into a series of useful components and support libraries that will be attached as JeOS to various applications that will run on a cloud of virtualized infrastructure (witness Amazon EC2). The lines between Linux, Solaris, and other open system components will blur. This outcome is a good one for Oracle because it is very disruptive to the existing providers of one size fits all, general purpose operating systems. Especially if Oracle follows through on their commitment to virtualization as evidenced by their acquisition of Virtual Iron.

Virtual Iron was an early entrant into the hypervisor space – behind VMware but ahead of XenSource. They never really got out of the gate from a marketing perspective, but they always had some useful technology for managing virtual infrastructure. If Oracle makes a strong commitment to Xen as well as the management interface for controlling virtual infrastructure, they could definitely emerge as the strong contender to take on VMware in this market. I do not believe Citrix has a strong commitment to the datacenter infrastructure market (they prefer the desktop with a strong Microsoft alliance), Red Hat is far behind in market adoption with their late commitment to KVM in lieu of Xen, and Microsoft has so much anxiety over Google that worrying about VMware is likely lower on the list of priorities.

The race to the bottom of the software stack just became more interesting yet again. With Oracle continuing to raise the bar with lower expectations, it will be fun to watch the feeding frenzy for the assets that will win the hearts and minds of those datacenter customers that are certain to embrace virtualization and cloud as the new architecture for scalable, elastic computing.


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