News that Oracle will acquire Sun Microsystems for $7.4 billion -- just weeks after the collapse of talks between IBM and Sun-- rocked the data center world this morning.
The Oracle-Sun acquisition raises major questions about the future of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s high-end hardware, its MySQL open source database and its storage lineup.
"Sun leads the open source charge, and many of its employees are involved," said the director of technical services at a major health insurance provider that has invested in the Sun software stack and embraced open source standards. "Our strategy was to remove high-cost vendors like Oracle, so I see no value for Sun customers in this deal. I am particularly concerned about the fate of MySQL."
Monday morning's news was prefaced by a short Oracle statement that mentioned Java and Solaris but featured nary a word about Sparc or hardware, a fact not lost on tea-leaf readers. Later, on the conference call, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison cited Sun Solaris and Java as the key motivators for this move.
"Shouldn't someone tell Larry that Sun is a hardware company?" quipped an executive at a large networking company.
There is a lot of uncertainty around the deal and uncertainty breeds anxiety. "I'm on suicide watch," said Ben Rockwood, director of systems at a cloud computing infrastructure company and a Solaris evangelist.
"You know that feeling you have when you wake up on April 1st and you go to your favorite IT news outlet, and all of the sudden the sky is falling… It's like that."Oracle and Sun: A complicated past
Many IT pros wonder about the future of MySQL, the popular open source database (and Oracle competitor). Sun bought MySQL last year, in a move that showed how much its relationship with Oracle, an erstwhile ally, had suffered.
Oracle long cast a wary eye on MySQL, PostgreSQL and other low-end databases and three years ago bought one of them: SleepyCat, the maker of the Berkeley DB database. Oracle has definitely pushed Linux to the max, making it the de facto standard platform for its database and applications -- and even, in effect, offering its own Linux distribution. And yet many open source proponents view the company with suspicion.
"Oracle certainly has not been an open source software provider," said Ted Nichols, a freelance IT consultant under contract with a GPS company that runs Sun hardware. "They've been very committed to the pay-for-license software strategy. By acquiring Sun, they acquire a lot of open source community developers."
Some history: Sun and Oracle were pretty much locked at the hip several years ago; Sun Sparcstations running Solaris were the servers of choice for Oracle databases. But when Oracle blessed Linux, while Sun continued to push its proprietary Solaris OS, it became clear that the two data center giants were at odds.
Oracle's goal was to suck all the cost out of a solution -- except, of course, the cost of its own database, middleware and applications. That meant Linux and low-cost blades were king, much to the chagrin of Sun's then-CEO, Scott McNealy.
Other IT pros think Oracle's embrace of Java (Sun's brainchild) and open source components make the Sun acquisition a good fit.
"This is good for Sun shops," said Bill Bradford, a senior systems administrator for an energy services firm in Houston, which also runs SunHelp.org.
Oracle will have a vested interest in keeping Solaris as the preferred platform for its software products, Bradford said. He also predicted that Oracle will drop PostgreSQL from future releases of Solaris.
"Oracle will keep MySQL," he said. "They'll offer support contracts and consulting on it to companies that need a lighter-weight solution than their full, and bloated at times, database products. This eliminates the potential MySQL/Berkeley DB issue, since Oracle will now own both products."
Open source boosters were quick to claim validation from Oracle's move.
Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, said Oracle's purchase "cements" the notion that free software and open source is in the driver's seat.
"All of the major forces today are either free software or powered by free software (Java, Google, and onward). The software marketplace is consolidating at an extraordinary pace. Part of the reason for that is that open source is dominating the innovation pipeline. The fact that one of those five has just announced a $6 billion acquisition of a company that describes itself as the world's biggest free and opens source software company shows that open source is the big game in town. Especially when companies such as SAP once tried to downplay the impact," Shuttleworth said.Oracle and Sun: An uncertain future
Over the past five years, Oracle has been on an acquisition tear, with buyouts of rivals BEA Systems, PeopleSoft/J.D. Edwards, Hyperion and Siebel Systems. The general consensus is that the company has digested its purchases quickly and smoothly, but there are often glitches in the field.
"Multiple sales people from Oracle call every manager in IT looking to sell something," wrote a commenter on an Ars Technica user community site. "They don't seem to know what we've already purchased and annually license, and they have no focus. They really aren't any different from other cold-calling salespeople trying to sells us copier toner or staff augmentation."
Another concern that echoed on the site was fear of price hikes. Oracle is known for buying companies and then bringing the new products' prices in line with its own. It infuriated customers last summer by raising BEA pricing -- as well as prices on its own database and middleware -- by 20%.
One Web systems administrator posted this comment on the site this morning: "Our whole shop is becoming Oracle-ized. We run BEA WebLogic on Sun Servers which talk to Oracle Databases on Linux servers. Now it's all Oracle. One company to rule them all."
Many still question the fate of Sun's Sparc chips and Sparc-based hardware. Bradford predicted that Oracle will focus on "high-quality x86 servers," which he views as better than commodity gear from Hewlett-Packard Co. or Dell Inc. But when it comes to Sparc, he and others see several possible outcomes: Oracle could discontinue the business, continue to run it in collaboration with Fujitsu Ltd., or sell it off to Fujitsu altogether.
Rockwood said he is optimistic Oracle will support the still-huge installed base of Sparc machines.
"Most of Sun's customers are still Sparc shops and the majority of opinions I'm seeing right now [are] Oracle is going to embrace Sparc more than Sun has in the past. So I'm curious on whether Oracle is going to go back to the pre-[Jonathan Schwartz, pre-Sun x86] days and focus on the enterprise. I don't know if they're going to be able to maintain both lines effectively. You may see a mass exodus from people from Sun x86 to Dell or IBM, but I don't know. It depends. Oracle has dabbled in this area with its Unbreakable Linux offering. It's difficult to see if they will remain committed to that. They may put Unbreakable Linux on the back burner and focus on Solaris." Rockwood points out that Oracle 11g has been out for several years, but the company has yet to offer an X86 Solaris version.
Schwartz is Sun's CEO and the major proponent of the company's open-source and commodity hardware push.
Big questions also swirl around Sun's StorageTek storage business. Some think Oracle will sell that off as well, although Ellison said that the value of the Sun acquisition lies in Oracle's new ability to deliver "completely integrated systems from disk to applications."
Nichols also questioned how the deal will affect Oracle's relationship with HP, a huge Sun rival. Oracle teamed up with HP last fall for its first foray into the hardware market with the Exadata Storage Server.
On a teleconference Monday morning, Oracle's co-president, Charles Phillips, said Oracle and Sun may get into specialized servers for vertical markets, or what he termed "industries in a box."
Senior News Director Barbara Darrow wrote this story, with additional reporting by News Writer Bridget Botelho, News Writer Mark Fontecchio, Associate Editor Leah Rosin and Executive Editor Matt Stansberry.
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