OpenWorld: 1,500 companies adopt Oracle Unbreakable Linux

A better Red Hat than Red Hat? It's a touchy subject

SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle Corp. on Wednesday said that 1,500 companies have signed up for its Unbreakable Linux discount support program since it was announced one year ago.

The number of customers is impressively greater than the number Oracle announced six months ago: 26. And that was with "virtually no selling at all" of Unbreakable Linux, CEO Larry Ellison bragged during his keynote speech at Oracle's OpenWorld 2007 conference.

"We did all of this while just building up our Linux sales team," he said.

Unbreakable Linux includes enterprise support for applications running on either Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) or Oracle's close clone, all at half the price of Red Hat Inc.'s offering.

"It doesn't matter which Linux distro [Red Hat or Oracle] you're on; Oracle will support you," said Cole Crawford, IT strategist at Dell Inc., during a panel at OpenWorld on Tuesday.

Dell is running a 16-node megagrid with Oracle's new 11g database on RHEL for which it is getting Unbreakable Linux support, Crawford said. Dell is also running Red Hat and SUSE Linux.

Customers announced by Oracle in March included Yahoo, video game maker Activision, restaurant chain IHOP and others.

Besides Dell, new customers of Unbreakable Linux include clothing store chain Abercrombie & Fitch, newspaper chain Cox Enterprises, McKesson, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Stanford University and others.

Despite Oracle's fast growth, Red Hat remains the top dog in the enterprise Linux market, with tens of thousands of subscribers to its support business. During its first-quarter 2008 call with analysts, Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik said it added "multiple of thousands of customers" in that quarter alone.

For its most recent quarter, subscription revenue, including support contracts, was $109.2 million, up 29% year over year. All 25 of its largest support customers renewed their contracts at 122% of their prior contract's value, the company said.

Yet, Red Hat appears vulnerable. Multiple users at OpenWorld -- both on Oracle panels and not -- cited dissatisfaction with the quality of Red Hat's support.

"The price is half of Red Hat. And we feel we get twice the attention," said Brad Maue, CIO of Stuart Maue Co.. The St. Louis, Mo., legal auditing firm switched its Linux support wholly from Red Hat to Oracle a year ago.

Maue said Oracle is even willing to help with problems involving third-party software that Oracle has not technically certified to run on Unbreakable Linux.

"There were some bugs in Linux that, beyond Red Hat introducing RHEL 5, we weren't able to get the pressure to get them fixed," said Tim Heath, senior database engineer at Yahoo.

Yahoo has about 50,000 servers running RHEL 4 out of a total of 150,000 servers. Yahoo continues to get support from Red Hat even while subscribing to Oracle.

"We like to pit the two against each other to see who submits fixes faster," Heath said. While he declined to say who was winning, Heath said, "We are very very happy with the support we've received from Oracle."

The biggest advantage of Oracle support, said Heath, is that getting support from a single vendor eliminates the "fingerpointing" between the applications and platform departments when a problem arises.

"Is it the I/O elevator or a bug in the Oracle database? It's no fun to prove who's right or wrong," he said.

But is bigger better?

Oracle has said it has more than 9,000 developers working on software that runs on Linux, many of whom as a practical matter fix bugs and do QA for Unbreakable Linux. That dwarfs the 2,000 total employees at Red Hat.

But, Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens said, to infer from that Oracle brings more technical resources to bear than Red Hat is "crazy."

"I used to know every developer on their Linux team. They could fit into this room," he said in an interview in San Francisco on Tuesday.

At most, said Stevens, Oracle is making its own applications run faster or more bug-free on RHEL/Unbreakable Linux.

"This is not about offering better support. This is about ownership of the IT stack for Mr. Ellison," Stevens said.

As an example, he pointed to Oracle's decision to only certify and support its applications if they are running on its own recently introduced flavor of virtualization.

Stevens also disputed the notion that Red Hat's support customers are unhappy, pointing to third-party studies showing the opposite. Or that customers can expect better service from Oracle.

"No one is going to say that Oracle knocks it out of the park on technology or service," he said.

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