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Oracle Linux – Novell or Red Hat? (Hopefully Neither!)

"Spending good money to get into other rapidly commoditizing businesses... seems a waste"

Yesterday morning saw reports in the Financial Times that "Oracle considers venturing into Linux". This was picked up by CNet (via Reuters) which set up the discussion about Oracle's desire to deliver a entire stack of technology to customers, and then drew attention to the quote that Oracle has even "considered buying Novell." And thus are rumor mills fed. Let's actually look at the discussion in a business context:

In an interview with the Financial Times, Larry Ellison said that Oracle wanted to sell a full “stack” of software that, ... included both operating system and applications. “I’d like to have a complete stack,” he said. “We’re missing an operating system. You could argue that it makes a lot of sense for us to look at distributing and supporting Linux.”

Not an unreasonable opinion. Go all the way back to Geoff Moore and Crossing the Chasm (1991). You want to present a "whole product" solution to your customer, i.e. your core revenue driver and all the complements you can reasonably provide that your customer perceives as the complete solution to their problem. If to sell an Oracle "solution" today means Oracle licenses and Oracle vertical specific applications, AND an expensive operating system on expensive hardware, AND an expensive application server, then reducing the overall cost to the customer while driving the core revenue generators would seem to be A Good Idea.

As part of a recent study of the open source software market, Mr Ellison said that Oracle had considered buying Novell, which after Red Hat is the biggest distributor of Linux. “We look at everything, play this thing out,” he added.

This statement should not surprise anyone that has worked in a large enterprise with a view of the executive offices. Companies explore ideas on paper constantly in their corporate/business development offices. Lot's of "what if" scenarios are played out, and numbers crunched without anyone ever committing to doing something. Companies even pay good money to the McKinsey's of the world for this sort of analysis even if they have their own inhouse "business consulting team". I'm sure Oracle has also run the numbers on Red Hat and SuSE (before the Novell acquisition) and developing their own distribution at various times in the past, and will do so again.

“Now that Red Hat ... competes with us in middleware, we have to re-look at the relationship – so does IBM,” he said.

This last quote is the troublesome one (or maybe it's a misquote without context). Oracle is the enterprise relational database company. It's been expanding its brand with vertical specific Oracle applications. It needs middleware (i.e. an app server), like it needs an operating system on which to run, but it isn't a middleware company.

Go back to the original business goal expressed in the article, that Ellison wants to provide a complete stack or solution to his customer. Good idea, but he has better ways to spend shareholder dollars to solve customer problems than acquiring the stack outright, and then living with the cultural consequences and long term engineering expenses of becoming an "operating system company" and an "app server company" as well as their primary focus as the enterprise database company. Spending good money to get into other rapidly commoditizing businesses, rather than serving your customers needs by supporting companies like Red Hat with its JBoss acquisition that already know how to make money in a different margin business seems a waste.

As I suggested Friday, Oracle should be hammering down Red Hat's door to expand the relationship with all the money they saved by not acquiring JBoss, or in this case (hopefully) Novell.

More Stories By Stephen Walli

Stephen Walli is Vice President of Open Source Development Strategy, Optaros, where he's responsible for developing and managing Optaros' relationships with the open source community. Previously Stephen was an advocate for open source at Microsoft, where he was focused on the technical implementation of open source-related community projects, creating a business model at Microsoft to engage in the open source community. Stephen was the Vice-president, R&D and a founder at Softway Systems, Inc, the developer of the Interix environment to re-host UNIX applications on NT. Stephen was also an independent consultant for X/Open, Sun, UNISYS, and the Canadian government. He was once a development manager at Mortice Kern Systems, and a systems analyst at EDS. A long time participant and officer at the IEEE and ISO POSIX standards groups, representing both USENIX and EUUG, he blogs on open source, standards, and the business of software at http://stephesblog.blogs.com/

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Most Recent Comments
Karsten Silz 04/20/06 08:59:05 PM EDT

I don't think that Oracle is a pure database company anymore. If you look at their financial results then you see that revenue from databases and middleware together grew five percent last quarter - kinda saturated, and threatened at the lower end from open source (MySQL, Tomcat, JBoss). So for a couple of years, Oracle grew their enterprise application business aggressively (see the take-overs of Siebel and PeopleSoft) and uses their database and the app / portal server their as the infrastructure technology. Pretty smart, if you ask me - that business grew 77% last quarter, although that number is caused by the acquisitions. Anyway, if you look at Oracle as an enterprise application company, then it makes sense to also offer an operating system, especially Linux, because each Linux license is one less Windows license sold. However, SAP became the biggest enterprise application vendor with an operating system, so it is not required per se.

Redge 04/18/06 09:25:08 AM EDT

Oracle is a public company like Red Hat so their primary goal is to make money. They will buy Novell. They wont spend extra dollars making their own stack from scratch. These so called Open Source companies will just canabelize themsleves as the GNU contracted media remains to pick up the pieces.

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