Oracle gives Linux on Intel a boost

Oracle Corp. announced general availability Wednesday of the second release of its Oracle9i database, and provided details about a partnership with Red Hat Inc. to promote the use of Oracle's database on Intel Corp.-based servers running Red Hat's Linux distribution.

At a press conference Wednesday morning at Oracle's Redwood Shores, California, headquarters, representatives from Red Hat and Dell Computer Corp. joined Oracle in a series of announcements which a pair of analysts said Tuesday could give a major boost to Linux in the enterprise.

Oracle detailed its efforts to optimize its database and clustering software for Red Hat's Linux Advanced Server operating system, during a presentation by company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison. Oracle software already supports a variety of Linux distributions including Red Hat. However, Ellison said that the company has worked closely with the Raleigh, North Carolina, company over the past few months to tune its software to run best on its version of Linux, analysts said.

"We're recommending Red Hat," Ellison said, noting that its collaboration with the operating system vendor has resulted in specific additions to the core of Red Hat's Linux operating system, known as the kernel. "We can't support 25 different flavors of Linux" and make them enterprise ready.

Dell joined the fray with news that it has certified its PowerEdge servers to run Oracle9i database Release 2 and Red Hat Linux Advanced Server, the Round Rock, Texas, computer maker said. In the coming months, Dell will also offer certified configurations of its hardware for Oracle9i Real Application Clusters (RAC), the company said. Oracle's RAC allows users to run its database across multiple servers, which it says is beneficial for providing load balancing, fail-over support, and greater scalability.

Ellison said Wednesday that he expects these clustered Linux servers to eventually account for more than half of its database business.

"The economics is so overwhelming," he said. "With clusters it is fast enough and there is no single point of failure."

A Dell-certified configuration for Oracle9i on Red Hat Advanced Server will cost US$11,900 per node, Dell said. This includes a PowerEdge 6400 server with a single processor, 1G-byte of RAM and four 36 G-byte hard drives, as well as the Red Hat Advanced server OS license.

Dell has also agreed to resell Oracle software licenses with its hardware products, the computer maker said. Until now, customers had to go to Oracle to receive a license key that would activate their database.

Oracle also announced a service partnership with Red Hat, in which Oracle will begin offering customers who purchase Oracle9i Database for Red Hat's Linux Advanced Server operating system support for both the database and the operating system.

It is the first time Oracle will provide support for an operating system, said Mark Shainman, senior research analyst with Meta Group Inc., and it means that customers running Oracle9i Database on Red Hat Linux only have to work with one vendor to receive support, such as bug fixes and patches.

"This is actually giving some validity for Linux in the enterprise," Shainman said. "One of the biggest apprehensions customers have with Linux is support."

Support is crucial for enterprise customers who are considering a switch to Linux, Ellison said. "Our software will run on a lot of versions of Linux, but if you want enterprise-level support, then our choice was to really focus on Red Hat," he said.

The renewed effort by Oracle to offer its database software on Intel-based servers running Linux could spell trouble for Sun Microsystems Inc., which builds powerful Unix servers that are widely used to run Oracle's software. Because Linux is a close cousin of Unix, customers who don't need the power of a Sun server could turn to Linux as a less expensive alternative, and one that has a familiar feel for system administrators, Shainman said.

"There's a huge percentage of database customers that could be running on a four-way box," he said, referring to servers that have four processors, such as the one being announced Wednesday by Dell. "If (Linux) sucks those customers away from Sun, they're looking at only competing in the high-end, eight-way and above arena."

Oracle has not pulled back any of its support for Sun systems, Ellison said. In fact Sun's high-end systems are still crucial for running large data centers, he said. The clusters of Linux machines only benefit those larger systems.

"If you want to buy big servers, Sun is our choice," he said. "... the front end of those machines are going to be Linux."

For Microsoft Corp. the announcement is also a concern, said Stacey Quandt, an analyst with Giga Information Group Inc. The Redmond, Washington, software maker is going after many of the same Unix customers that Linux vendors are aiming at. However, switching from Unix to Windows is more complex than the switch from Unix to Linux, she said.

There is also the issue of how much performance users get for the price. According to Shainman, Oracle software running on Linux trails only slightly behind that same software running on Windows in terms of performance.

"The potential price-performance with Oracle on Red Hat will be much more preferable over (Microsoft)," Giga's Quandt said.

Joe Yong, product manager for Microsoft's SQL Server division, countered those claims. In terms of moving to Windows from Unix: "I don't see that as a huge pain," he said. "We actually see it as a fairly easy switch. Even if you move from one flavor of Unix to another, you still have to learn quirks and differences between different versions."

As for cost, Yong said the total cost of installing and maintaining Oracle9i on Intel servers running Linux exceeds the cost of running SQL Server on Windows software.

Elsewhere on the competitive front, IBM Corp. has stormed the Linux market. For instance, the company has been supporting clusters of Linux servers with its DB2 database software since December 2000, the Armonk, New York, company said in a statement.