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With Oracle-Sun Microsystems deal done, the fun begins

Many Sun Microsystems hardware customers breathed a sigh of relief that the buyout ordeal is over. But concerns over Oracle support plans continue.

Now that Oracle's purchase of Sun Microsystems has finally passed regulatory muster, Sun customers know that the real game is on.

For months Sun Microsystems Inc. customers have been in limbo, waiting for a sign that their investment in Sun hardware and software would be safe. With the European Commission (EC) approval in hand as of this week, the uncertainty about whether Sun will find a home is over, but concerns about support, hardware and software issues remain.

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Oracle plus Sun equals uncertainty

"It would be a shame if this hardware, this technology, was somehow obliterated," said Josep Torrellas, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and part of a parallel computing research center at the school. "The concern, of course, is whether Oracle Corp. would have use for the hardware technologies that Sun has."

The research center runs many UltraSparc-based Sun boxes and has worked on the OpenSparc architecture. OpenSparc's survival is still in question, and whether Oracle will continue Sun's work in Sparc remains to be seen. Last year there were reports that Sun had dropped its so-called Rock Sparc processor, leading some to speculate that a merged Oracle and Sun would eventually outsource processor work to Fujitsu.

That said, Oracle has promised it will keep investing in Sparc, even advertising that intention last year. That and other reassurances from Sun have helped Josh Clark, a Unix senior systems administrator at Allen Systems Group Inc., make peace with the deal.

"We have a lot invested in the Sparc infrastructure, and I have a lot invested in Solaris in my career," Clark said. "I was very concerned that they wouldn't continue investment in Sparc. I'm still concerned, but just less concerned."

Allen Systems Group also runs several x86 Sun boxes, a part of the business that Oracle has been less clear about. Clark isn't worried too much about the hardware side, saying that x86 servers are commodity items now anyway. But there is one caveat to that.

"I hope they would continue to support Solaris on x86, even if it's not on Oracle Sun hardware," he said. "Sun fully committed to the x86 platform. I would hate to see it all of the sudden go away."

Oracle to push more hardware and software appliances
The CTO of a large Midwest financial services firm said the idea of a pre-integrated, pre-optimized server appliance for corporate workloads is "very attractive," and the Oracle-Sun merger could foster that. Oracle showed its predilection for such a device with its announcement in September of the so-called database machine known as Exadata.

On Jan. 27, Oracle will host an event to "outline the strategy for the combined companies, product roadmaps, and how customers will benefit from having all components -- hardware operating system, database, middleware and applications -- engineered to work together.

The $7.4 billion acquisition ends a nine-month wait since Oracle announced its intention to buy Sun. After gaining U.S. Department of Justice approval, Oracle then had to navigate the European antitrust regulators, which are often more difficult. The European Commission's main concern was that Oracle's acquisition of Sun would dramatically cramp competition in the database software market. In particular, because Sun bought open source database provider MySQL in 2008, the EC wanted to know whether Oracle buying Sun would quash MySQL completely.

But the EC allayed its concerns.

"The Commission's in-depth investigation showed that although MySQL and Oracle compete in certain parts of the database market, they are not close competitors in others, such as the high-end segment," according to the EC statement.

Mark Fontecchio can be reached at

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