Oracle finally taking Linux plunge?

Ubuntu would be beneficiary of open source push.

Rumors are swirling yet again that Oracle wants to get cozier with Linux and at least one financial analyst says customers can expect a tighter Linux-based appliance from the database and application vendor by the end of the month.

Industry experts say such a move would be good news for small and midsize customers, who would be the likely target of pre-configured Ubuntu Linux-based packages from Oracle. Ubuntu, a European-based Linux distribution firm has gained widespread popularity on the desktop and released a server version earlier this year and is rumored to be working with Oracle.

Canonical, a European-based Linux distribution firm, has gained widespread popularity with its Ubuntu desktop operating system. Canonical released a server version of Ubuntu earlier this year and is rumored to be working with Oracle. Canonical confirmed it is in discussions with Oracle but says a deal has not been finalized.

“Regarding certification of Ubuntu, as Ubuntu gains more acceptance in the enterprise data centre, we see increasing interest in this,” said Canonical spokesperson Jane Silber via e-mail. “We have been discussing certification with Oracle, but no decision has been taken yet.”

Oracle could not be reached for comment for this story.

“We have heard that Ubuntu is currently working to certify its recently introduced server OS to all of Oracle's major products, including database and middleware,” writes Katherine Egbert, an analyst at Jefferies & Company, in a research note on Red Hat she issued last Friday.

The move, Egbert believes, “is perhaps the fallout from an attempt by Red Hat and Oracle to work more closely together.”

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has had his eye on the open source world for sometime. In February, Oracle announced plans to buy open source database vendor Sleepycat. Oracle also was rumored to have had open source application server vendor JBoss in its sights, but Red Hat snapped it up in April.

Shortly after Red Hat announced the JBoss deal, Ellison, who has been building out Oracle’s software portfolio ranging from the Sleepycat acquisition to the purchase of PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards, was more specific about his open source strategy.

Oracle partners with Red Hat and Novell and supports both of their Linux distributions with its software, but in an interview with the Financial Times in April, Ellison said Oracle’s biggest customers want a one-stop-shop where they can get an entire stack of software, from the operating system to applications. Linux would be a boon in that effort, he said.

“I’d like to have a complete stack,” he told the Financial Times. “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.”

In her note, however, Egbert was careful to state that there was “no evidence that Oracle will introduce a stand-alone version of Ubuntu’s Linux OS, keeping them out of direct competition with RHEL [Red Hat Enterprise Linux] and SLES [SuSE Linux Enterprise Server].”

Instead, Egbert suspects that Oracle will introduce an Ubuntu-anchored software stack. “We think Oracle could introduce either a dedicated hardware appliance with a pre-loaded software stack, or a soft appliance bundle,” she wrote.

She expects the announcements to come sometime during the Oracle OpenWorld show next week.

By making such a move, Oracle likely is looking at the midmarket with a Linux-based product that includes an operating system, database and applications all rolled into one, analysts say. By offering a preconfigured Linux package, Oracle would give small and midsize firms a way around concerns that they don’t have the technical expertise on staff to support the open source operating system.

“Ease of use and ease of installation would be of primary importance because [small and midsize] firms don’t have the IT support of a larger enterprise,” says Stuart Williams, senior analyst at Technology Business Research.

Ease of use will be the key for any vendor looking to gain share against Windows, which dominates in small and midsize businesses (SMB), Williams says.

“Because Oracle has this pre-integrated stack, they can preconfigure everything you need and be [service-oriented architecture] ready . . . and, because they use these common networking protocols, they could also integrate with the existing Windows environment,” Williams says. “You drop it off, set it up and it’s ready to use.”

Looking beyond SMBs, an Ubuntu-based package of infrastructure middleware could cause some concern for Red Hat simply because of its implications, analysts say. Red Hat itself is building out its lower-level software offerings with the acquisition of JBoss, for example.

“I don’t see Oracle getting into the general purpose Linux distribution business. What does seem possible is Oracle appliances that are based on Linux ‘bits’ that Oracle assembles,” says Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata.

“Although not directly competitive with Red Hat or Novell, such an approach would nevertheless create a certain tension in that it shifts responsibility for the lower-level stack to the [independent software vendor] and away from an [operating system] vendor. Indeed, it bypasses the OS vendor," he says.

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