Sun and Oracle


The recent acquisition of Sun by Oracle has raised a lot of speculative discussion about the latter vendor’s strategic pursuits. The move may or may not result in a power triumvirate of HP-IBM-Oracle. But Oracle expanding its portfolio to include hardware could be a game-changer.

Oracle has a dubious record with hardware plays. The nCube investment (circa 1988) and network computer idea (circa 1996) both presented interesting vision, but didn’t deliver tactically. NCube video-on-demand (circa 1994) ceded to decommissioning the product (circa 2001).

While many are focused on the state of Sun’s numerous DBMS partnerships, I’m more interested in the fate of Storage Technologies, which was acquired by Sun (circa 2002). Do a little research and you’ll see that EMC stores the lion’s share of DBMS data across enterprise data centers. If Oracle keeps the Storage Tech products it might shave some revenue from EMC and gain an even larger wallet share with IT organizations. Oracle’s intentions are equally unclear around the Exadata product, which had previously relied on the HP partnership that’s certainly strained. With the acquisition of Sun, Oracle is more able to go head-to-head with the likes of HP’s Neoview and Teradata.

Clearly the company has the option of producing a database appliance on its own. Personally I’m waiting to see the level of fear, uncertainty, and doubt Oracle stir up into the data warehouse appliance market. Oracle hasn’t differentiated its DBMS in years. The differentiation has always been about the company’s size, the number of Fortune 500 customers, and its broad array of application offerings, and that they work on every conceivable hardware platform. Focus on non-database products has fanned the flames of the market’s perception that databases are a mere commodity.

I can only imagine what’s going on in Oracle’s slideware development organization right now. Here are some of the messaging scenarios that are likely to be on the table:

Scenario 1: “Through our acquisition of Sun, we can now deliver a more fully-functional database appliance.”

In reality, the whole point of an appliance is to reduce complexity and configuration effort. Prepackaging Oracle on a hardware platform already occurs with companies like Sun, HP, and Dell. This isn’t simpler or better.

Scenario 2: “Oracle can now be your de-facto desktop and development tool provider.”

This one could actually be true. Oracle can leverage Sun’s vast software capabilities in two significant ways. With Sun’s desktop office suite, StarOffice, Oracle could provide a captivating alternative to the Microsoft Office monopoly. Any executive would find it difficult to ignore an Oracle office option, particularly in cases where they’ve made significant investments in Oracle as the corporate database standard. Plus, Oracle can monetize open source software by dramatically improving support revenue from these customers. Microsoft does not deliver customer service and support the way Oracle does—and enterprise clients expect more sophisticated and consistent support than the channel usually delivers.

Scenario 3: “Our Java-based toolset covers the spectrum of development needs without forcing your reliance on a specific vendor. Whether it’s middleware, server development, or reporting, we have the tools to support a multi-tier network enabled environment.  You can now come to a single company for a single set of tools regardless of your platform type, desktop, server, or operating system.”

For IT organizations that still rely on custom development, this may dramatically reduce the number of suppliers they need. Over the past few years the number of middleware and application tool vendors has diminished—with Oracle being the buyer of many of them. Most IT organizations prefer fewer vendors. Whether open source or proprietary, the combined Oracle-Sun toolset offers Oracle a significant revenue stream in the support arena.

I’m fascinated that little or no attention has been paid to the software assets that Sun has. This combined with Oracle’s DBMS, middleware, and application toolsets offers an unexpected alternative to the ongoing IBM and Microsoft battles for enterprise development. Moreover, with Sun’s Java leadership and the popularity of Java in consumer electronics, Oracle can now enter into the world of consumer software, a la Apple. The opportunity for Oracle to support media companies that sell directly to the end consumer is wide open.

If it’s not careful, Oracle’s future may be in milking the legacy product cow instead of exploiting its newfound software assets.  The real question is, is Oracle a company of innovators or bean counters?

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About Evan Levy

Evan Levy is Vice President of Business Consulting at SAS. In addition to his day-to-day job responsibilities, Evan speaks, writes, and blogs about the challenges of managing and using data to support business decision making.

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