Analysis: Oracle-Sun deal delivers mostly frustration

Meanwhile, rivals can sow fear, uncertainty and doubt among Sun users

Orace Corp. CEO Larry Ellison took the stage Tuesday to sell the company's upgraded database and storage server product, Exadata Database Machine V2, with "Sun Oracle" prominently displayed on it. The co-branded, co-developed system let the two companies show that close engineering cooperation is under way in advance of Oracle's takeover of Sun.

The Exadata product, built on Sun Microsystems Inc. hardware (Hewlett-Packard Co. hardware was used in the previous version) with Intel's Nehalem chips and Oracle Enterprise Linux, is intended for online transaction processing and data warehousing. But it's just one product. Most of what's been delivered to Sun customers so far from Oracle's planned acquisition of Sun is frustration.

Customers and resellers of Sun systems want answers about the fate of various product lines once Oracle completes its $7.4 billion acquisition. But for now, the answers remain vague as the merger timeline is extended by European regulators, possibly to January. The deal was announced in April.

Oracle took the unusual, silence-breaking step last week of running an advertisement promising to spend more on Solaris and UltraSparc development than Sun does now, in an apparent effort to reassure Sun customers.

That ad was a positive message for Richard Newman, president and co-founder of Reliant Security Inc., even if it did lack detail. It was nonetheless a start, he said.

OpenSolaris is the native operating system used by the New York-based company to deliver data security services and products to retail industry customers. "Sun has had a big advantage over typical Linux or BSD-based distros because there is a very large enterprise pedigree to Solaris," Newman said.

Newman noted that he worries about open source under Oracle. "In the open-source community, Oracle doesn't have a particularly friendly reputation," he said.

But after Oracle's advertisement was published in The Wall Street Journal this month, Newman cut it out and hung it across from the cubicle of one of his developers who's the most skeptical about the future of Solaris. "We're crossing our fingers that what [Oracle] stated in print is in fact going to happen," he said.

When the Sun acquisition was announced, Ellison praised Solaris, calling it, along with Java, "the heart of the business." But he didn't say much about hardware direction other than to cite the need for Exadata-like systems that tightly integrate hardware and software.

The ad "was a very unequivocal statement of support for the Sun hardware," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight64 in Saratoga, Calif. "I would hope that they would follow through on that."

But Brookwood doesn't see that ad calming customers, especially big hardware users. "It's not time to stop biting your nails," he said.

Among the Sun customers most in need of answers are its resellers, such as Irene Griffith, the owner of PetroSys Solutions Inc. in Houston, who works in the government and education markets.

"A lot of our clients are nervous, and they want to know what's going to happen," said Griffith, who said she appreciated Oracle's advertisement because "IBM is very good at creating FUD" -- fear, uncertainty and doubt. On its Web site, IBM describes Sun's hardware business as "highly uncertain" and having an "undefined future." IBM and other rivals are moving aggressively against Sun.

Griffith said she hopes to see more advertisements from Oracle similar to the Solaris and Sparc ad, and a commitment from Oracle to Sun's product lines. She has tried to get information from Sun sales representatives to no avail. "They're not talking to us, they're not reaching out to us."

A wide range of users is waiting on answers from Oracle and Sun about the future of their products. For instance, Richard Toeniskoetter, technology director at the W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University, uses Sun's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) software and its Sun Ray thin clients.

Toeniskoetter said the university has been extending its use of the energy-efficient platform. It has virtualized desktop lab spaces and is moving to virtualize the desktops of faculty and staff.

"We are already running a fairly mature VDI model in the college, and we just want to see Oracle recognize that it's a viable platform," Toeniskoetter said. He said he's also concerned about MySQL. While Oracle is used to support large systems, in particular the university's PeopleSoft application, MySQL is used on smaller database applications.

Oracle "needs to keep longtime Sun customers interested and confident that this is going to go forward," said Jean Bozman, an analyst at IDC. "If Oracle retains that base, it's an opportunity for them to sell hardware as well as software and services." The Exadata announcement is part of Oracle's increasing effort to explain its intentions as much as introduce a product. "That's what they're telegraphing," she said.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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