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Putting Unbreakable Linux into perspectiveMatthew Aslett, November 16, 2007 @ 8:23 am ET
As I sat watching Larry Ellison’s keynote at Oracle OpenWorld on Wednesday it occurred to me that something was not quite right. This is the end of a year in which Oracle released a major new version of its flagship Database product and made a number of acquisitions, including Hyperion, Agile and Coherence, not to mention bidding for BEA. This is also the start of the year in which Oracle will roll-out its first Fusion Applications following its acquisitions of PeopleSoft, Siebel et al. And yet here was Ellison talking about Linux.
Granted, the fact that Oracle had gathered 1,500 customers in the first year of its Unbreakable Linux offering is a sign of success, but enough to overshadow everything else and form the starting point of Ellison’s keynote? It doesn’t add up. So does Ellison have a Red Hat fetish, as Matt Asay suggests or is there something else going on here?
On one hand the significance placed on Unbreakable Linux is a matter of ego. It’s worth remembering that Unbreakable Linux’s announcement was the cornerstone of Ellison’s keynote in 2006. He wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to remind everyone what a great idea it was.
The other significant factor here is Oracle’s desire to increase its influence over its customers’ IT estates. At OpenWorld it became increasingly clear that Oracle’s strategy is to own as many customer ‘touch points” as it can. The company will tell you this is so it can provide customers with more value and increased services, but locking out the competition is a nice little side win.
As I mentioned earlier this week, that’s what Oracle VM appears to be all about. With Oracle VM and Unbreakable Linux Oracle can now claim to provide customers with everything that sits on top of its server hardware. It’s no coincidence that the company will not be certifying its database and applications on other virtualization software.
Since the launch of Unbreakable Linux there has been a lot of attention paid to the impact on Red Hat, but to some extent that is a sideshow. The real competition here remains Microsoft. Microsoft is the only ISV that has the same breadth and depth of Oracle, apart from the fact that its stack does not run on anything other than Windows.
To put it simply: a win for Linux is a win for Oracle as it immediately takes SQL Server, Exchange, Visual Studio et al out of the equation and increases the likelihood that a customer will choose Oracle software. From that perspective it is clearly in Oracle’s interests that Linux succeeds, whether that means Red Hat, Novell or Ubuntu.
The only problem for Oracle is that a win for Linux introduces a new third party that stands between its software and its customers. The clear solution to that is for Oracle to acquire a Linux distribution. Maybe one day it will, although I think the company is very aware that an Oracle-owned code base would diminish the value that customers see in Linux. An Oracle-supported code base is slightly different conceptually, while the result – Oracle owning the customer relationship – is the same .
You could question why Oracle is paying so much attention to Linux given that its revenue from Unbreakable is tiny in comparison to the other areas of its business but that, in my view, misses the point. It isn’t really important for Oracle to make money from Unbreakable Linux (or Oracle VM), what is important is that it strengthens Oracle’s relationship with its customers and keeps competitors out.
As Ellison told The FT back in April 2006 as he effectively pre-announced Unbreakable (not that anyone understood that at the time): “I don’t think we’ll make a lot of money in the Linux operating system business, I don’t think its going to be a hugely profitable business for us. But it will allow us to deliver a higher quality of service to our customers because we’ve tested the whole stack, we know it works. One set of management tools, one set of patching tools, one set of upgrade tools.”
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