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Oracle's Linux roadmap: Standardize on 'unbreakable' Linux distros

Oracle laid out its Linux road map Wednesday at OracleWorld, and the destination is clear: Standardize on Red Hat or SuSE Linux on Intel servers.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle laid out its Linux road map in a session Wednesday at OracleWorld, and the key destinations are Oracle, Red Hat or SuSE Linux, all running on Intel servers. Even with a magnifying glass, however, you won't find homegrown versions of Linux on that map.

Businesses should standardize on Oracle, Linux and Intel to "get ready for the grid," Oracle Linux Program Office vice president Dave Dargo advised those attending the Linux road map session. His message fit with the show's emphasis on grid computing, in which many low-cost servers and other components act and are managed as one computer, and Oracle's launch of Oracle 10g.

In his briefing, Dargo described the advantages of grid computing, the adoption arc of Linux and Oracle's plans for developing Linux technologies. He also explained why Oracle won't be supporting many Linux distributions, particularly those businesses have built themselves.

The timeline for the mainstream adoption of Linux has been and will be much shorter than for the adoption of Unix on RISC, Dargo said. The latter's adoption path took about nine years. Linux is now one-and-a-half years into a three-year cycle. The difference is that Unix-on-RISC's adoption was negatively affected by 1990s standards battles.

Linux is ready for and being used widely in enterprise computing environments now, Dargo said. Technology barriers have been toppled, and deploying Linux is much easier today than two years ago. Remaining cultural barriers are crumbling, though at a slower rate.

Many Oracle customers now run multiple database versions on multiple versions of different operating systems, Dargo said. Each environment must be uniquely managed. "That gets very expensive," he added.

Now that Linux is enterprise-capable, it's possible to create a common standard with Linux on Intel. "Linux allows us to have an inexpensive platform on which we can standardize," Dargo said. With Linux, you have inexpensive and easily replaceable building blocks -- or low-end servers -- for grids.

"In almost every industry that standardizes on components, creating standard building blocks, prices go down and quality goes up," said Dargo.

Server consolidation, in which many servers' workloads are moved to one larger server, is not the same as standards consolidation. "If you take eight different releases of the Oracle database and run them all on one big machine, you haven't necessarily saved yourself any operational costs," Dargo said.

Oracle's Linux development team is working on several fronts, including the following: Making it easier to manage clusters as single entities; sizing systems to better fit the existing business needs and increase CPU utilization; removing the few remaining CPU and memory scalability barriers; and automating diagnostics and problem prevention processes.

"Because we're dealing with an open source operating system … and low-cost commodity hardware, we have the ability to contribute code in these areas that are important to us," said Dargo. "That's why we're so positive about Linux. We know we have the ability to contribute into the operating system to make things run better, make them easier to manage and make them more reliable."

In the future, Oracle wants to see continued deployments of standard distributions such as Red Hat's and SuSE enterprise products, Dargo said. If an enterprise is standardized on one database and Linux distribution version running on Intel servers, Oracle can provide code-level support for the entire software stack, including Oracle-certified third-party applications.

If an Oracle customer builds its own Linux operating system, however, there are going to be support problems, Dargo said in response to a session attendee's question.

Oracle has already encountered problems with operating system rewrites, Dargo said. If someone rewrites the memory management or a driver, it's an "absolute nightmare for Oracle from a software support perspective," he said. It can also be hellish for Oracle and the customer to figure out how to manage the tweaked system.

"We know that Oracle works on a number of other distributions," Dargo said. But, if someone deploys on a distribution not certified by Oracle and has a problem, it's likely that Oracle can only fix the Oracle problem. "We do not want to get into an argument with you or any other customer in order to prove whether it's a Linux kernel issue or a roll-your-own driver issue or an Oracle issue," he said.

Building-your-own OS also flies in the face of Oracle's standardization roadmap. "Oracle is so strongly opposed to the fragmentation of Linux distributions that we really want to keep the number of distributions that we formally support to a minimum," Dargo said.

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