Can Oracle dominate Red Hat?

The Oracle OpenWorld expo in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago featured a slew of different announcements, but only a small number of them got major press coverage.  One curious reader e-mailed me to quickly discuss Oracle Unbreakable Linux and Red Hat, and I decided a short blog was in order.

Led by CEO Larry Ellison, Oracle officially set its sights on stealing market share away from Red Hat, the current leader in enterprise Linux.  As the Oracle Unbreakable Linux support program -- based off of Red Hat technology -- continues to snap up users after more than a year on the market, Ellison still chose not to publicly speculate how the OS is doing compared to Red Hat.  The company jumped fully into the Linux support business due to the number of clients who elect to use free and open software technologies.  

"Oracle has been in the Linux business for a year now. With the Red Hat code all we did for the first year was fix bugs," Ellison said in his keynote.  "Now Oracle is growing a lot faster than Red Hat. Red Hat has been growing too because it is a growing market."

Oracle is probably known in the open source community for its code contribution of the Oracle Cluster File System, which is optimized for Oracle databases but included with the 2.6.16 Linux kernel.  According to Oracle, Red Hat users interested in switching from RH to Unbreakable Linux should be able to do so in a few minutes.    

More than 1,500 customers tried Unbreakable Linux, especially during a three-month free trial window.  More impressive is Oracle's claim it had less than 30 supporters a mere six months ago.
"The phenomenal adoption of the Oracle Unbreakable Linux support program has exceeded expectations and clearly demonstrates that Linux users seek better quality support -- the same support Oracle offers its database customers," said Edward Screven, Oracle Chief Corporate Architect.

Oracle believes its announcement of the Xen-based Oracle VM virtualization software will create an advantage over Red Hat, even though Red Hat uses the same Xen software in its Linux distributions.  It wouldn't be surprising to see if virtualization software is one of the keys to determine who will hold enterprise Linux superiority next year.   

A key difference between Red Hat and Oracle is the software stack that caters to users:  "We have a single stack of code that includes Oracle VM and Linux. This is a very high quality, optimized VM. This is not the same code as what Red Hat delivers," Ellison said during the event.  Not surprisingly, developers made sure Unbreakable Linux has been fully optimized for Oracle programs.

Red Hat had a presence at OpenWorld with a medium-sized booth demonstrating Red Hat Enterprise Linux, MetaMatrix, and other enterprise solutions.  Not surprisingly, representatives at the booth declined to speak about the impact of Unbreakable Linux possibly taking RH market share.  Although Red Hat remains the leader in the enterprise Linux market, and still has tens of thousands of supporters, the lackluster support Red Hat offers could help drive Unbreakable adoption among IT clients.

Ellison and other critics may not respect Red Hat's current support system; though it is apparent some corporate users still remain content paying for subscription support from Red Hat.  I spoke with representatives from a couple of different companies who expressed major concern over support from Red Hat, forcing them to think about alternative operating systems to run.    

Companies may sit on the sidelines a bit further before jumping on the Oracle bandwagon -- until we learn, without the Oracle hype, how good the company's customer support truly is.  As customer attitude changes from commercial support to open source, Red Hat and Oracle preparing for a fierce battle is understandable.

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