Will Oracle Offer Its Own Distribution of Linux?

Everyone’s doing it these days, so will Oracle jump on the Linux bandwagon?

For the past few months rumors have surfaced that Oracle might offer its own distribution of Linux, or perhaps acquire Red Hat Software or another Linux operating systems vendor. While Oracle is not shy about acquiring companies for their technology or their installed base, becoming a vendor of an operating system (OS) might actually hurt its competitive positioning.

One of the prime drivers of Oracle’s early growth was the ability of its database to run on a vast variety of hardware/OS combinations. The language chosen for writing the Oracle database management system code was C, which facilitated its adoption by multiple platforms. This provided Oracle with a competitive advantage over proprietary database management systems that were written in languages specific to each platform, or which relied on features embedded in specific operating systems. In many cases Oracle competitors chose not to port their products to certain platforms and ceded those accounts to Oracle. It was speculated that on some niche platforms, Oracle would first make the sale and then have its developers port the database to it.

Contrast this with one of Oracle’s competitors, the Digital VAX platform, Rdb/VMS, which only ran under the VAX/VMS operating system. One of Digital’s ways of competing against Oracle was to position its Rdb/VMS database system as being optimized for the VAX/VMS OS. One of Oracle’s ways of competing against Rdb was to cite the fact that due to its reliance on VAX/VMS, Rdb only ran on VAX platforms while the Oracle database ran almost everywhere (especially, according to its critics, on the Oracle salesperson’s slide projector).

Another major factor in Oracle’s success was that from inception it utilized SQL as its data manipulation language, long before SQL became the industry standard; Rdb initially only supported its proprietary RDO (Relational Data Operator) language, but later adopted SQL. Despite it power, Rdb fell by the wayside while Oracle thrived. In fact, Oracle acquired Rdb from Digital in 1994 and still supports it as Oracle Rdb.

If Oracle were to acquire or develop its own distribution of Linux, its competitors would rush to claim that future versions of any Oracle database will obviously be optimized for Oracle Linux. And while this will not necessarily be true, it is an argument that Oracle itself successfully used in the past, and one that it would likely not want to hear used against the Oracle database.

However, one place where an Oracle supported version of Linux might make sense would be deeply embedded inside of a database appliance where the operating system would be relatively hidden. A database appliance is not a new concept for Oracle as evidenced by its joint announcement with Sun Microsystems in 1998 of its intention to develop the “Raw Iron” Oracle 8i Database Appliance which would utilize a stripped-down version of the Sun Microsystems Solaris OS and pre-configured Oracle 8i software.

Interestingly enough, the first hardware partner with whom Oracle delivered the Database Appliance was HP in 2000. Oracle has always maintained that the database engine, not the OS, should be at the center of the platform universe, and delivering a new generation of database appliances based on its own Linux distribution and the Oracle database engine, could have market appeal.

Even if Oracle has no intention of offering its own distribution of Linux, the mere threat that it might may improve its negotiating position with Linux vendors. Perhaps this is what the Linux rumor is really all about.

About the Author

Michael A. Schiff is a principal consultant for MAS Strategies.