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Sun shops prefer Oracle to IBM, but worries persist

An Oracle-owned Sun Microsystems leaves customers wondering about the fate of Sun's hardware and open source software portfolio.

When Oracle swooped in to buy Sun Microsystems this week after talks between Sun and IBM fell through, many customers said that Sun ended up with the lesser of two evils. Yet many of those Sun shops still worry about what Oracle ownership will mean to the licensing, support and even survival of key Sun technologies.

For more on Sun/Oracle resources:
Oracle to buy Sun Microsystems

Oracle/Sun acquisition raises hardware, MySQL concerns

VARs turn wary eye on Oracle/Sun deal

They say IBM and Sun fielded so many overlapping products that IBM would have ditched such Sun workhorses as Sparc and Solaris. But since Oracle Corp.'s execs repeatedly said they were most interested in Sun's software properties like Java, the fate of Sun's hardware business remains hazy.

Solaris gets a life line
In terms of the future of Sun's Solaris operating system and the joining of company cultures, many Sun users speculated that Oracle was a better acquisition candidate for Sun than is IBM.

"At first pass, [Oracle] seems like a much better fit than the IBM purchase of Sun," said a Unix application engineer with a document management technology company. I prefer the Solaris operating system and did not like the idea that it would most likely go away if IBM bought them. With Oracle purchasing Sun, I expect Solaris to stick around for a while,"

At first pass, [Oracle] seems like a much better fit than the IBM purchase of Sun.
a Unix application engineer,
a document management company

Chris Dunbar, a Sun user and owner of the technology consulting and support company Earthside, agreed, saying Oracle and Sun's corporate cultures line up better. "Oracle and Sun always seemed to have a love/hate relationship, but IBM has always been viewed as a nemesis," Dunbar said. "Oracle and Sun view themselves as maverick companies and I think their attitudes will be more in sync than IBM's and Sun's would have been."

Following the acquisition news Monday, several IT pros on an Ars Technica IT community website also echoed that sentiment. "This appears to be a much better outcome than IBM buying them," a Sun user wrote. "Oracle actually has a use for the properties that Sun owns."

"[Oracle] is probably the most complementary suitor for Sun," another IT pro wrote. "Sun hardware running an Oracle database is a fairly common sight, and Oracle also has some interest in Java, what with having WebLogic and all that," he said. "I'm picturing being able to order a whole widget from Oracle that's a locked Sun Modular Datacenter with network connections on the outside."

Question marks abound on fate of MySQL, open source
Still, Sun customers worry that Oracle will raise prices on Sun's software or kill products that compete with Oracle's software such as MySQL. MySQL users prefer the free and open source technology to paying thousands for Oracle databases, said Bill Glazier, a vice president with Virident Systems Inc., a Sun partner.

"If you go to 100 large website companies, you can bet 98 of them use MySQL," Glazier said. "MySQL is the leading database because it is free, which is a lot better than paying Oracle $20,000 per CPU." But word on the street is that Oracle considers its ties to the open source community a major asset, and will keep technologies like MySQL around, Glazier said. After all, in recent years, Oracle has become a loud Linux proponent.

Glazier has good reason to be concerned about MySQL; Earlier this month, Virident launched a server specifically designed for MySQL. But, he said, "people close to the deal" told him that it and other open source technologies from Sun are probably safe.

"The sense is that the MySQL community is a valuable asset, and it may be a main reason Oracle was interested in Sun," he said from the MySQL Conference and Expo in Santa Clara, Calif. "I know people involved in the deal who reassured me that Oracle is very committed to open source. At first pass, you might say Oracle is the big bad company. … But they don't want to ruin the open source community."

MySQL also gives Oracle a potent weapon against Microsoft at the low end of the database scale, said a CTO of a large financial services company in the Midwest. "MySQL [will] become the entry point for Oracle to fend off Microsoft SQL Server and offer ERP [enterprise resource planning] into smaller accounts."

The future for Sun Sparc servers
Oracle was open about its keen interest in Sun's software, but the company made little mention of Sun's servers and Sparc processors in its initial statements about the acquisition. This is particularly odd because while Sun's hardware doesn't make up a huge part of the company's profit, Sun is among the top five largest server vendors in the x86 server market. And, more Oracle databases still run on Solaris than on any other OS, Oracle execs said. This despite Oracle's very public Linux push in recent years.

Oracle did not respond to questions about its plans for Sun hardware, but Oracle's announcement FAQ page states that Oracle "intends to focus the server and storage businesses on our common enterprise customers."

Those "common" customers are primarily Sparc systems users, but Sun's x86 systems business overlaps much more with the business of Oracle partners like Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc., according to Richard Partridge, an analyst at Ideas International Inc.

Sun's x86 business amounts to about 13% of Sun's hardware business, "therefore, Oracle may be more hesitant to promote these systems, and it will likely continue to encourage other x86 vendors to adopt the x86 versions of Solaris and OpenSolaris," Partridge said in his blog on the future of Sun's hardware business.

Others go further. The CTO said he expects Oracle to sell the Sparc business to Fujitsu Ltd., which already sells it as an OEM. He also think the StorageTek tape business could also be sold, probably to Hewlett-Packard.

Earthside's Dunbar said Oracle could make a case for selling or keeping Sun's hardware business. "I can see value in being able to offer a turnkey hardware-plus-OS-plus-application solution, and I think that is where Oracle is heading with this. [But] I could be wrong, and we may see them spin off the hardware to another company like Fujitsu," he said. "I think Sun has some great hardware and I would hate to see those products disappear."

On an Ars OpenForum website, one IT pro made the argument that hardware "isn't a core competency for Oracle overall," so they don't have a strong reason to keep it. "I would even question their involvement in hardware at all, with most moving to commodity servers and the low [server profit] margins."

A financial services company CTO told that Oracle will probably break apart Sun's hardware business and sell the pieces off separately. "Sparc [will get sold] to Fujitsu -- which already 'OEM'd' it; tape [STK] goes to HP; disks go back to Hitachi, HDS [Hitachi Data Services to] HP, because Sun is just a VAR [value-added reseller] there anyway," he said.

But "a major portion of Sun's revenue is from its Sparc division and a lot of Oracle's hardware runs on Sparc," wrote one Sun user on the OpenForum, "so it seems like it's in Oracle's best interest to keep that division versus spinning it off."

Sun's latest and greatest storage products may also survive at Oracle, and Solaris could end up the blessed operating system for Oracle products, the financial services company CTO said. Plus, "Larry [Ellison] finally gets a thin client that works in Sun Ray, and Sun's N1 Grid Engine gets decent support and gives Oracle a cloud play."

Oracle's moment of truth?
Predictions aside, the fate of Sun's technologies will remain unclear until the deal closes some time this summer. Until then, Sun will continue running as its own company.

One thing is certain though; Oracle has reached a fork in the road, said Gary Burgess, a senior VP of research with Ideas International.

"Oracle has to decide if it will continue along its path as an independent software company or take a new path: that of a full-stack provider including the hardware, which will significantly change its standing in the market and put it into more direct competition with what have until now been valued partners," Burgess said. "This will be more than some of the "co-opetition" we have seen from some companies who compete one minute and cooperate the next."

If Oracle decides to keep the hardware business, it can merge that with relatively little disruption, because Oracle doesn't have such a team today, Burgess said.

But Oracle will have to overcome the hurdle of being a software company trying to sell hardware. "I still see Oracle as primarily a software company even if it does start selling hardware. It is clear that Java and Solaris were the jewels in the crown for Oracle, but the hardware is still an important building block, if it means what it says about being a full-stack provider."

Senior News Director Barbara Darrow also contributed to this report.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

And check out our data center blogs: Server Farming, Mainframe Propellerhead and Data Center Facilities Pro


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