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Oracle Buys Sun


Oracle announced today that it will buy Sun Microsystems for $7.4 billion, finally ending Sun's search for a suitor. Oracle, a heavy investor in Java technology even prior to its purchase of BEA Systems, was a natural choice after Sun's courtship with IBM failed. As the resident "Java guy" around here, I'd be remiss if I did not share some of my own perspective on the big news.

First, the things I see as being positive:

  • This is good for Java, at least the perception of Java in the marketplace. Fair or not, there are many people who equate business success with quality (just ask your friendly SharePoint administrator). A nose-diving Sun stock price did not do much for people's perception of the viability of Java as a platform going into the future. Oracle's stewardship should improve this dramatically.
  • Like IBM, Oracle has always done a much better job than Sun actually making money on Java. Of course one could speculate endlessly on the reasons why (one invariably hears the fuzzy term "marketing"), but the fact remains: Sun executives chased the buzzword of the day while Oracle executives made money. In what reminds me of Apple in the late 90's, this is not uncommon in "R&D-oriented" companies; they just don't seem to learn how to sell the technology very well.
  • Solaris. Long viewed as one of the best flavors of Unix (featuring DTrace and ZFS, to name a few cutting-edge technologies), Solaris is the other crown jewel that Oracle picked up in the merger. In the conference call following the announcement, Larry Ellison specifically named Solaris as one of the reasons for the move. Since both Oracle and Weblogic already run on Solaris, owning the OS itself opens up some possibilities for Oracle.
  • Having followed Oracle's acquisition of BEA, I was generally impressed by the fact that Oracle did not automatically favor its own product lines over BEA's. In fact, a lot of careful thought seemed to go into which technology Oracle would adopt going forward. I hope the same will be true for Sun.

And now the less positive:

  • Consolidation. Consolidation is usually a good thing for vendors (at least the winners), and not so much for customers. There is, of course, less choice and inevitably some "cool stuff" that you wanted to last forever winds up in the dustbin.
  • MySQL. The MySQL community is unlikely to be very happy about the merger, given its traditional positioning as a cheaper alternative the the dominant database vendor. Personally speaking (and I'm no expert on the database market), I think that MySQL occupies a different end of the market than Oracle does, one which the the database giant would be foolish to ignore. Oracle is likely to keep selling Oracle database to its "Fortune 500" customers while also selling MySQL support to lower-end customers running LAMP stacks. The good news is that MySQL will remain a light-weight database. The bad news is that "enterprise features" are likely to fall off the development roadmap.
  • Glassfish. Sun was doing some very interesting work with Glassfish, and it's hard to say what will happen to the project in the wake of the Oracle purchase. Will it simply get nuked in favor of Weblogic? Glassfish has not yet seen huge adoption in the marketplace, so it may not have the same argument in favor of it that MySQL does. There is a big question mark hanging around its neck now--which is a shame because Glassfish is the kind of light-weight JEE server that could really be a game-changer if marketed properly.
  • Hardware. Sun is still very much a hardware company (at least in terms of revenue); Oracle is not. It's hard to say what will become of some of Sun's high-end hardware business after the acquisition. Personally, I think that Oracle will try to sell it off to a more hardware-oriented company in order to mitigate the cost of the buy.

Of course, this is all just speculation, and it is fun to speculate at times like these. One thing, though, is for sure: in the face of a bad economic recession, the market for enterprise technology will continue to consolidate.