Big Red Roars
At Oracle OpenWorld Wednesday CEO Larry Ellison was the guest of honor at a closing bell ceremony for the Nasdaq stock exchange. The ceremony, performed remotely for the New York-based trading floor's benefit, underscored the importance of Oracle technology to world business. So did Ellison's subsequent talk on Oracle's place in business. Those remarks closed with a huge piece of news: Oracle will provide full support for all Red Hat Linux installations, and at a substantially reduced price.
Most of the computing visionary's early remarks focused on Oracle's history, in light of the 20th anniversary of Oracle's listing on the Nasdaq. That history is tightly bound with Red Hat's version of the Linux open source operating system, and with the concept of grid computing. "If you [do not correctly] estimate your needs for a mainframe, you have to roll in a forklift to drag out the old equipment and bring in new," Ellison said. Grids, however, have capacity on demand. "You need more performance? Plug in another two, four, or eight servers. Grid computing provides near perfect reliability. We've been working on this--my god, since we went on Nasdaq."
That claim is accurate, according to Ellison's presentation. Oracle version 6, launched in 1988, was the first to permit servers to run in parallel; prior to this servers operated as single entities. "We had four VAX/VMS or Unix boxes working together--it was a huge breakthrough," Ellison said.
By 1998 Oracle had moved away from clusters of large machines to large clusters (16 at the time) of PC servers, which Oracle decided to run on Linux because of its open standards and low cost. But the Linux offerings of the day weren't quite enough yet. "We had to invest in improving the performance, the reliability, and the security," Ellison said.
To make a long story short, those investments led to an ongoing partnership with Red Hat Linux, and in 2002 to Oracle's Unbreakable Linux program, wherein Oracle committed to fixing Linux OS bugs as they arose, and providing free patches to customers and vendors. But there were issues remaining to slow adoption of Linux in mission-critical implementations. Lack of true enterprise support from Linux developers, the expense of existing support options, and the lack of intellectual property indemnity for Linux vendors--a huge consideration when open source meets the enterprise--have been major speed bumps. Ellison has now flattened them.
"Oracle is announcing full support for Red Hat Linux. If you're a Red Hat customer, you can very easily switch from Red Hat support to Oracle support," Ellison said. "We will backport any and all bug fixes to your current installation. We will indemnify you from intellectual property issues. And our support costs are way less than half of Red Hat's." Ever the salesman, Ellison added that the already generous list prices for Oracle Linux support are 50 percent off until January 31, 2007, and there is a free 90-day trial for current Oracle customers.
The reason for the new Unbreakable Linux 2.0 program, complete with adorable armored penguin mascot, was explained as the best way to make Linux the OS of choice for big business grids. "Red Hat has an overwhelming share of the Linux server market," said Ed Sereven, chief corporate architect for Oracle. "If we want to help Linux users, Red Hat is the place to be."
A live demo followed, where an Oracle engineer switched from Red Hat support to Oracle support in 90 seconds, with a single small download and a few lines typed into the Linux command prompt. Customer Laurie Mann, vice president of engineering for Yahoo!, summed up the value for the audience. "We don't have any time when our 500 million daily users will accept scheduled down time; we must be up and running every time, all the time. Now there's only one person to call if something goes wrong--Uncle Larry, it's your problem to fix."
Ellison stressed the importance of not fragmenting the Linux market, but questions from the audience showed skepticism of the Oracle chief's motives. "We're not intending to kill Red Hat; we've raised the bar for support and price, and we expect them to do the same next," Ellison responded. "We're competing. This is capitalism. We're trying to help Linux, and speed the adoption of open standards."
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