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Oracle plus Sun Microsystems equals uncertainty

The delayed Oracle buyout of Sun Microsystems keeps the fate of Sun hardware a question mark. A Gartner analyst parses potential outcomes for an Oracle-Sun deal.

LAS VEGAS – IT pros still have lots of unresolved questions about Oracle's delayed quest to acquire Sun Microsystems.

These doubts surfaced publicly at a packed session at this week's Gartner Data Center Conference" "The New Math: Oracle + Sun = ?" Attendees were asked about their current purchase plans vis a vis Sun servers. Half the attendees said Sun hardware remains an option, another quarter said they will migrate off Sun server hardware.

That supports other anecdotal evidence that some Sun shops have delayed server upgrades pending the deal's completion, and some have moved or are considering a shift to servers from IBM or Hewlett-Packard Co. hardware. To be fair, given Sun's rocky financial performance over the past few years, not all these defections can be attributed directly to delays to the Oracle buyout.

For more on Oracle and Sun:
Sun Microsystems customers stew in limbo

Oracle's Sun acquisition raises hardware, MySQL concerns

Will Oracle hold a Sun yard sale as the acquisition's value declines?
Mike Rose, the director of information technology services at Salem State College, is migrating from 20 Sparc-based Sun servers running Solaris and moving to x86 IBM blades running Windows and Linux. But he's not doing so because of deal-related issues. He's just fed up with Sun server performance.

Over the past two months, two of the college's Sun Fire servers -- both less than two years old -- gave out, he said. That was the last straw for Rose, who said the Sun hardware didn't fit into the college's virtualization strategy. Rose will make the hardware move despite the fact that the college will still use Oracle for its primary database.

"I was already not happy with [Sun servers]," he said. "I'm aggressively trying to eliminate them." Gartner analysts at the conference had plenty of questions about the buyout, echoing the concerns of their end-user clients.

"There is still strong sentiment that you want to keep Sun in play, but there are some saying that we've had it, we can't take that risk, we're migrating," said Gartner analyst George Weiss. "When you consider the financials Sun is attempting to maintain, that migration factor is extremely important. As you may know, IBM and HP are all over the Sun accounts and attempting to instill fear into Sun users."

Weiss laid out the entire timeline of the Oracle-Sun saga during his presentation, from the Oracle's April 20 announcement to the Jan. 27 date when Oracle is expected to respond to European Commission concerns about the deal. In the meantime, Sun's existence has gotten more tenuous each month. Oracle is slated to meet with European Commission regulators to argue its case for approval.

"[Larry] Ellison as CEO has admitted that Sun is hemorrhaging $100 million a month," Weiss said. "So the European Commission has in its hand the ability to determine whether one company sinks or swims, depending on its decision."

Weiss listed four probable results from Oracle negotiations with the European Commission (EC), in order of probability:
  1. Oracle negotiates a compromise, satisfying the EC's objections, possibly by agreeing to support the MySQL community. The deal closes and Oracle/Sun rebuild some lost confidence.
  2. Oracle is unable to overcome the EC objections and goes into a lengthy appeals process as Sun continues to suffer financially.
  3. Oracle is forced to get rid of MySQL but keeps ownership of Sun's other properties.
  4. Oracle is forced to get rid of MySQL and decides to back out of the deal.
The possibility of Oracle divesting itself of MySQL or other products worries some. Peter DelGiacco, the CTO for the National Hockey League, said most of the company's dot-com business runs on Sun boxes and Solaris.

"We're very concerned," he said. "There are certain products that, if they don't support, could affect the things we do, and in which case we would have to make some changes."

The NHL just extended a licensing agreement with Sun. If Oracle buys Sun and doesn't support innovation, that's bad news for DelGiacco.

"They could quickly pigeonhole you based on all these other things around that have expanded, but you can't take advantage because this piece hasn't integrated into taking advantage of those capabilities," he said.

Mark Fontecchio can be reached at

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