Oracle shocks Linux groups

Under what it calls its Unbreakable Linux program, the company is creating a version of the OS based on the Red Hat distribution and will support it for substantially less than Red Hat currently charges.“We believe that better support and lower support prices will speed the adoption of Linux, and we are working closely with our partners to make that happen,” said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

The move, announced at last month’s annual Oracle OpenWorld conference, baffled Forrester analyst Michael Goulde, who called it a risky way for Ellison to increase Linux adoption of Oracle applications.

Oracle is taking the Red Hat source code, compiling it into binary code and applying fixes and patches. On top of that it is offering round the clock support and services.

But, Goulde added, because Oracle is adding fixes and patches, Unbreakable Linux is more of a variant than 100 per cent compatible with Red Hat’s Oracle-certified version.

There’s a real risk of incompatiblity arising if customers want to use Oracle Unbreakable Linux with under non-Oracle applications.

Oracle VARs, he said, shouldn’t bite, at least not quickly. “Stay the course,” he advised. “The reason I say that is they’re currently using Oracle on top of Red Hat certified Linux. Red Hat will continue to certify Oracle products on Red Hat Linux, and that’s the safest thing for resellers to work with. If they start getting into the Oracle version, at least until this initiative has proven itself, there is risk.”

Red Hat partners should also steel themselves, he said.

“You’re going to have to be prepared for customers to hold up the Oracle price list to you and try to get you to do something. You’re just going to have to resist. Customers who jump to Oracle support are taking a lot of risk. If current Red Hat partners just hang in there and wait to see what happens there’s an equal probability customers will come back as will desert them.”

Oracle refused to provide a spokesperson for an interview with CDN on its strategy. A Red Hat spokesperson refrained from criticizing Oracle.

“We think its a great endorsement for Linux,” said Leigh Day, director of Red Hat’s global communications. “We’re going to continue to drive optimization for our platform for Oracle solutions. In our relations with Oracle we are partnering on some fronts and competing on other fronts.

“The real challenge now is to educate the market on the value of the Red Hat subscription and to make sure people are aware when another company takes our source code and changes it and adds to it, it becomes a derivative solution . . . and therefore we can’t guarantee that any applications certified on our platform would work on it.”

Oracle’s move was supported by endorsements from HP, IBM, Intel, AMD and others.

Also at the conference, Oracle previewed E-Business Suite Release 12. It will include a profitability analyzer, improved global system management features and ways to make it easier for administrators to create shared service centres.

It also introduced Web Center Suite, a middleware module that extends Java Server Faces and NetBeans with support for portlets with a client based on asynchronous Java and XML, or AJAX. The software is designed to let Oracle customers build in Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis and RSS feeds into company intranets, internal dashboards and other portals.

Limited interactivity
“Right now the interactivity with portals is fairly limited,” said Thomas Kurian, senior vice-president of Oracle Fusion middleware. “We believe those technologies are fundamentally changing how people interact over the Internet.”

Kurian said Web Center Suite will allow enterprise IT organizations to create “mashup” applications that combine content from databases and other repositories such as their PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards or Siebel systems.

Business users will be able to access this data through MS Office applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, he said. They will be able to do the same thing with personal digital assistants or voice-over-IP clients, he added.

Glen Cripps, a member of the Ottawa Oracle User Group who works at Health Canada, was uncertain Web Center Suite would make it into his office anytime soon.

“If you’re talking about creating those big central portals, it’s not happening here,” he said. “The tools are there, but it’s a question of demand at this point.”

Cripps said Health Canada does make use of Oracle’s implementation of Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) in its business intelligence products, an updated version of which was also launched at OpenWorld this week. “It’s matured very quickly,” he said.

Tools spreading
Web 2.0 tools have found some enterprise users who are interested in loosely structured types of portals, said George Goodall, an analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research.

This is an evolution from using simple office tools like Microsoft Access to collaborate on projects, he said.

“The question is, how well is that going to play with IT departments that are concerned with compliance and tightly structured systems?” he said, adding that business departments may be more likely to champion the technology.

“There’s almost a mismatch in terms of the users it will benefit and the audience Oracle will be marketing it towards.”

Oracle also revealed it will acquire MetaSolv Software Inc. for US$219.2 million, a move industry experts said could complicate the company’s ongoing PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards integration issues but should ultimately help flesh out its product portfolio.

MetaSolv provides service fulfillment operations support system solutions for the telecommunications and media industry. Its software automates aspects of ordering management for wireline, wireless and VoIP carriers.

MetaSolv, is “a good company for Oracle to buy from a product standpoint,” said Shira Levine, senior analyst of OSS and billing at IDC Inc. But integration is “going to difficult.”

MetaSolv is the result of several acquisitions itself and “anytime you start compounding acquisitions, it becomes more difficult to do that integration,” said Levine.

Oracle will benefit from getting its hands on some much-needed wireless expertise from MetaSolv, said Craig Reed of the Toronto Oracle Users Group.

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