Oracle finally gets its database appliance

Thank you Larry for finally putting us out of our misery, as Oracle has finally silenced the chattering classes (mea culpa) with a $9.50/share bid for Sun (almost smack dab in the middle between IBM’s original and revised lower bids).

In many ways this deal brings events full circle between Oracle and Sun. The obvious part is that the deal solidifies Oracle’s enterprise stack vs. IBM in that Oracle can now go fully mano a mano against IBM for the enterprise data center, database, platform and all. It also provides a welcome counterbalance to IBM for control over Java’s destiny. While the deal is likely to finally put NetBeans out of its misery, it means that there will be a competition over direction of the Java stack that is borne of realpolitik, not religion.

More importantly, it finally gives Solaris a meaning for existence as it returns to serving as Oracle’s reference platform. In a way, you could state that both companies were twins separated at birth, as both emerged as the de facto reference platforms for UNIX in the 80s; the deal was sealed with Sun’s purchase of some of the assets of Cray in the mid 90s that finally gave Sun an enterprise server on which Oracle could raise the ante on IBM. Aside from HP’s brief challenge with SAP in the mid 90s, Solaris has always been the biggest platform for Oracle.

But after the dot com bust and emergence of Linux, Solaris lost its relevance as open source provided an 80/20 alternative that was good enough for most dot coms. It left Sun with an identity crisis, debated much on these pages and elsewhere, as to its next act. Under Jonathan Schwartz’s watch, Sun tried becoming the enterprise counter pole to Red Hat – all the goodness of open source, MySQL too, but with the bulletproofing that Red Hat and SuSE were missing. As we noted a few weeks back, great idea, but not enough to support a $5 billion business.

Now Solaris becomes part of the Oracle enterprise stack – a marriage that makes sense as businesses investing in high end enterprise applications are going to expect umbrella deals. In other words, now Oracle has the complete deal to counter IBM. Oracle in the past has flirted with database appliances and certified implementations – now it doesn’t have to flirt anymore. More importantly, it provides a natural platform for Oracle to offer its own cloud.

The deal protects Sun’s – likely soon to be Oracle’s – hold on the Solaris installed base more than it protects the Oracle database, application or middleware stack. Basically, shades of UNIX hardware are commodity and more readily replaced than databases or applications. That’s why you saw Sun try developing a software business over years as it desperately needed something firmer to anchor Solaris. Oracle seals the deal.

Obviously, this one makes PeopleSoft and Siebel walks in the park, if you compare the scale of the deal. Miko Matsumura and Vinnie Merchandani have their doubts as to how well this beast will swallow the prey.

CORRECTION: The PeopleSoft deal was larger and marked the beginning of Oracle’s grand acquisitions spree. But this deal marks a major new chapter in the way it could transform Oracle’s core business.

While there is plenty of discussion of how this changes the lineup of who delivers to the data center, we’ll focus on some of the interesting implications for developers.

For starters, my colleague Dana Gardner had an interesting take on what this means for MySQL, which he calls MyToast. We concur with the rest of his analysis -– but depart from it on this one. First, this is open source, and in this case, open source where the genie is already out of the bottle. Were Oracle to try killing MySQL, there would be nothing to stop enterprising open source developers and some of the old MySQL team from developing a YourSQL. Secondly, MySQL was never going to seriously compete with Oracle as the database, in spite of improvement, remains too underpowered. Our take is that Oracle could take the opportunity to cultivate the base and develop the makings of a lightweight middleware stack that for the most part would be found money, rather than cannibalization, of its core business.

The other interesting question concerns Java. Three words: NetBeans is history.

Sun’s problem was that the company was too much under the control of engineers -– otherwise, how to explain why the company kept painting itself into corners with technologies increasingly off the mainstream, like NetBeans, or the more recent JavaFX Java-native rich internet client? Now that it “owns” the origins of the Java stack, we expect Oracle to provide counterweight to IBM/Eclipse, but as mentioned earlier, it will be one borne of nuance rather than religion. You can see it already in Oracle’s bifurcated Eclipse strategy, where its core development platform, JDeveloper, is not Eclipse-compliant, but the recently acquired BEA stack is. In some areas, such as Java persistence, Oracle has taken lead billing. Anyway, as Eclipse has spread from developer to run time platform, why would Oracle give up its position as a member of Eclipse’s board.

We see a different fate for JavaFX, however. If you recall, one of the first things that Oracle did after closing the BEA acquisition was dropping BEA’s deal to bundle the Adobe Flash client as part of its Java development suite. Instead, Oracle’s RIA strategy consisted of donating its Java Server Faces (JSF) to Apache as the MyFaces project. As JSF is server side technology for deploying the MVC framework to Java, we expect that Oracle will view JavaFX as the lightweight Java-native rich client alternative, providing web developers dual alternatives for deploying rich functionality.

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