Thursday, April 23, 2009

Oracle becomes the second "IBM"

As promised, my thoughts on the merger with Oracle.

Disclaimer: We know that the deal has not yet been finalized yet, and these are my personal opinions and thoughts on the matter.

I have read many forum posts about the merger, many of them very negative about the whole deal. Whether it is people fearing that Oracle will kill off this or that product, or people who feel that it is good riddance to Sun, these all indicate a serious level of misunderstanding about the IT industry as a whole, about what Open Source software is, and mostly what Sun is about.

On a personal level the merger scares me: Change is always stressful, and we love the culture at Sun. Sun's culture of allowing the Engineers a virtual free hand in designing products is what drives the innovation and new features.

Sun's products really represent a level of innovation and quality that is hard to match. The cost of Sun's servers and storage products are often said to be too high, but when doing a like for like comparison, Sun products at the same price as those of the competition have better performance, features, power consumption, rack density, upgradability, investment protection, manageability and build quality. I know many of Sun's products well because of the way we work in the SSA (Sub Saharan African) region - The engineers here all support all of Sun products, bar none.

A little bit more about that: The engineers in this region must handle calls, ie analyze, determine fault cause, and often implement the solution (Though this may change with a split in the team having been proposed). The products we support include software and hardware, everything from NAS gateways to Cluster software, and includes many products that are virtually unknown outside of their niche markets.

What enables us to support such a wide variety of products is the quality of the products: They work as documented, and the documentation is available. In addition we have access to the engineering teams and interest groups for discussing unusual problems.

What I am trying to get at is that I have personally dealt with a wide variety of Sun's products, and everywhere I look I see supportability through enterprise level maturity. People who bash the products have had a single bad experience, and unfortunately it is human nature to base opinions on your bad experiences, and not notice when things go well.

Sun's product line includes Storagetek's tape libraries and VTL / VSM mainframe products. It includes the Fujitsu based M9000-64. It includes the Constellation blades and switches, and little servers like the T2000 and even many smaller, though older V210s and V240s that are still being used. In January I had to replace an EEPROM chip on an Ultra 5 on a scientific vessel in the Cape Town harbor!

Sun also have a major investment in SPARC processors. No, they are not the fastest number crunchers, in fact the UltraSPARC processors are quite slow when compared to the fastest processors from the competition. But scaling to hundreds of CPUs is mature technology in the SPARC camp. Multi-core CPU technology: Mature. Multi-terabyte RAM in a system: Mature technology. NUMA? Mature technology. 64-bit processors? Those came out, what, 12 years ago. Systems with over 700 GB/sec internal bus bandwidth? We got it. Adding memory or CPUs to a running system. Mature, and available for 10 years already. You can even remove those components and repair or replace them without stopping the OS, though it does require that you configure the server correctly.

IBM in comparison have a slightly wider footprint in the server hardware arena: Their systems include laptops and Mainframes, and essentially everything in between. But their software product set is not as broad as that of Sun, which includes products like the Luster file system, SunRay software, Java, StarOffice and OpenSolaris, etc etc etc.

What happens when Oracle suddenly attaches all of Sun's products to its own portfolio ... ?

In the enterprise market there are realy only two databases: DB2 and Oracle. I am well aware that PostgreSQL and MySQL and YourFavourtiteDB also have a meaningful place in the market, but those are all to a large extent "alternatives to" using Oracle or DB2.

At present Oracle is not a huge competitor to IBM, except for the Database itself. But when Oracle suddenly adds all of Sun's products to its arsenal, it turns into a different beast. Oracle becomes the second "IBM".

I must say that Oracle is unlikely to kill of many products. They may sell a few products, and I think it would be interesting to see what goes. Funding of some products may stop, but that does not need to mean the end of Open Source products.

One of my biggest gripes with Sun's uninformed critics is how they in the same forum post complain that Oracle will kill of their favourite open source application, and right after that complains about how Sun's products aren't open enough.

Listen to me: The mere fact that you worry about OpenOffice or MySQL or whatever dispearing means you admit what a large contribution Sun is making to your world.

I don't know exactly what the merger will mean for the IT industry as a whole. If Oracle changes the Sun culture to disallow the engineers from being innovative, we will see some of the competition in the market disappear over time. If Oracle sells off some products, they may get new life in another stable or they may disappear, we don't know. But every product that does disappear is a sad case and will be mourned.

If you don't think Sun's products are good, it just shows how little you know. I hope that Oracle will give new life and funding to Sun's R&D. If the Sun culture disapears, I will blame it on bad marketting that failed to turn good products into income, which ultimately resulted in Sun's demise ... but before I make any judgement calls prematurely, let's rather wait and see what happens. Oh and yes, I really do love Sun's products, especially Solaris and the servers.

No comments: