Oracle’s Turn to Play in the Sun

Early Monday morning, tech giant Oracle Corp announced it will be purchasing Sun Microsystems inc. in an all cash deal to the tune of $7.4 billion. The news falls on the heels of IBM opting out of its bid to purchase the networking company.

IBM was in talks to buy Sun, but after seeing the offering price, Sun cancelled IBM’s exclusivity rights; this led IBM to withdraw its bid, opening the door for Oracle to step in. Oracle representatives say the deal will be completed early this summer. 

But what does this mean in terms of the future of both companies? A lot of people are up in arms, saying that it is the end of MySQL, but this seems far from the truth. If anything, MySQL will be a nice complement to Oracle’s database solution, which generally serves the high-end markets such as government and finance; MySQL tends to dabble in low to mid-range markets, such as websites and single-use installers.  

If this doesn’t sound like reason enough for Oracle to keep MySQL around, consider the decision Oracle made back in 2005 – that’s right – the purchase of Innobase, who were (and still are) the creators of the most popular transactional storage engine for MySQL. 

As for Sun’s server business, it too may fit well with Oracle. Remember that Oracle already manages its own Linux distribution, and has long stored its databases on Solaris servers. Now attach that to Oracle’s past dealings with Hewlett Packard to produce its own branded hardware, and it is not hard to see where things are headed. 

Indeed, the move might reawaken the decade-old Raw Iron project at Oracle. The idea behind Raw Iron was to put application software at the heart of the solution, while letting the server hardware and the operating system take a back seat. After all, why should the customer need to think about the structure when they’re really concerned with what the application can do for them? Oracle had originally tried to work partnerships with hardware makers for Raw Iron; now, with a hardware maker in-house, Oracle could go ahead and build Raw Iron servers without concerns of stepping on toes.

Has the Market Moved On?

So will Sun and Oracle storm the markets with server appliances? Um, maybe not. Here’s the problem: some customers appreciated them, but they never quite caught on. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison seems determined to make them work, though, if this quote from his company’s statement on the deal is any indication: "Oracle will be the only company that can engineer an integrated system–applications to disk–where all the pieces fit and work together so customers do not have to do it themselves…Our customers benefit as their systems integration costs go down while system performance, reliability, and security go up."

Integration is a good thing…or is it? While many companies still buy and manage discrete systems, there are other options today. For example, EMC’s VMware software lets a single server run multiple operating systems. The collection of software can also move smoothly from one physical machine to another. All of a sudden, instead of discrete machines, the whole system is responding to the demands placed on it, and the actual hardware is, to some extent, less important. This approach is known as virtualization.

Another approach to databases gaining headlines lately is cloud computing. This is almost the ultimate case of the hardware not mattering, because applications are run on central servers on the Internet rather than on servers owned by the company. Oracle faces a challenge in this arena from Salesforce.com, a cloud-computing CRM service that competes with Oracle’s Siebel software suite.

Neither Oracle nor Sun are dinosaurs by any means. But they will have to be prepared to meet today’s challenges, and customers will expect them to offer answers for today, not yesterday — unless they can show that their approach is the future, not the past.

Sun’s Crown Jewel

Lastly, we can’t talk about Sun without talking about its pride and joy – Java. Sun and Oracle have partnered together in the past, and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has made it clear where he stands on the language: “I can’t emphasize how important Java is to Oracle. We have based our entire middleware strategy on Java and J2EE.” 

So what does all that mean? For starters, it will mean that sometime during the summer there will be only two big companies in the database field: Microsoft and Oracle. It also means that Oracle will have a well-rounded product line, featuring business solutions for low-end to high end clients, in both the database, software, and hardware sectors. It won’t mean a completely smooth transition, however, because both cmpanies may need to take a closer look at the writing on the wall as they get their current products and future product plans all in a row.

As for changes in MySQL, it’s hard to say at this time what they might be. For certain, they will offer an upgrade path to Oracle through MySQL; that much is a given. But will it now also try to coerce users into an Oracle support contract or change the way users get their MySQL? 

Only time will tell.

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