Oracle's Linux Server Slant

by Paul Rubens

OS Roundup: Is Oracle closing the door on Solaris in favor of Linux servers? Recent actions imply the company is determined to drive potential customers away from the UNIX offerings it acquired from Sun and into the arms of Red Hat and other enterprise Linux vendors.

Based on Oracle's recent actions, it seems the company is hell-bent on driving as many of its potential customers as possible away from the UNIX offerings it acquired from Sun and into the arms of Red Hat and other enterprise Linux vendors.

I've talked before about how UNIX is a sinking ship as increasing numbers of workloads are moved off the operating system and onto Linux. This should not be surprising: Linux can handle increasingly "high-end" workloads, and it can run on far lower cost hardware. Running Red Hat Enterprise Linux on standard Intel hardware can end up being 90 percent less expensive than running Solaris on SPARC machines, not to mention three times faster.

What is surprising then is Oracle's behavior. Given the threat from Linux you'd expect Oracle to be doing everything in its power to discourage customers from moving away from UNIX. Sun had a strategy for doing this: It made Solaris free. Anyone could download it, register it, and use it for as long as he or she wanted. And Sun hoped to make money out of it by, eventually, selling subscriptions for support and patches to those who wanted it at the very least. Not much different from the Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server model. So far, so Linux, you might say.

But Savio Rodriquez over at InfoWorld points out something has changed at Sun following the acquisition by Oracle. An extra sentence has been added to the registration information for anyone downloading Solaris from Sun: "Please remember, your right to use Solaris acquired as a download is limited to a trial of 90 days, unless you acquire a service contract for the downloaded Software."

Oracle seems to have decided that beyond a 90-day trial Solaris should no longer be free -- what's the point in providing software for enterprise use to organizations if it doesn't lead to revenue? One assumes Sun has decided that too little revenue was being generated from service contracts, and at least some of the companies that download Solaris in the coming months will choose to buy a service contract if that's the only option. The rest of them -- those that don't want to pay -- can shove off and try their luck with Linux. That is if it really is powerful enough to meet their needs.

Or they can try OpenSolaris, of course. The future of this UNIX has been in some doubt since the Oracle acquisition, but following the OpenSolaris Annual Meeting project leader Peter Tribble blogged that "it's clear that Oracle plan to keep pushing OpenSolaris forward, so rumours of its death have been greatly exaggerated." But OpenSolaris, like Fedora or OpenSUSE, doesn't suit everyone.

One feature of Solaris (or OpenSolaris) was the possibility of running it on a variety of hardware platforms -- including IBM's System Z mainframes. But Oracle's acquisition of Sun is certainly making life harder for those working to port Solaris and OpenSolaris to IBM Big Iron. According to David Boyes, president and chief technologist of Sine Nomine Associates, the engineering firm that helped put OpenSolaris on IBM's System Z mainframe in 2008, "the Sun employee working on the port has gone -- chopped as the result of Ellison's cull of Sun staff -- and hasn't been replaced," The Register reports.

What are the alternatives that are similar to Solaris on System Z? IBM's mainframes also run Red Hat and, more commonly, SUSE Linux. Again, Oracle seems to be pushing potential users away from its UNIXes and toward Linux.

It makes you wonder what Oracle's plans for Solaris and OpenSolaris really are, and whether they have a long-term future in a form with which current users are familiar. The company, it seems, would prefer most companies to move to Linux.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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This article was originally published on Tuesday Mar 30th 2010
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