The numbers driving 'Unbreakable Linux'

Oracle just signed up Symantec as a certified Unbreakable Linux partner, but that's not the real story. The real story is why Oracle cares about Linux at all.

It would seem that Oracle is serious about its Unbreakable Linux. The company announced today that it has pulled in Symantec (Veritas data center software) as a certified partner. This is a good step forward for the program, though Oracle still has to pull in the thousands of other applications that Novell and Red Hat have to be credible as a standalone Linux vendor. But the more I think about it, the less it seems to matter how relevant Oracle's Linux is beyond Oracle. It's a question of numbers.

I talked with Monica Kumar from Oracle's open source team yesterday about this announcement, and asked about the significance of the deal as well as why Oracle continues to push its own strain of Linux. She said something I found funny, though true:

We have enough expertise in-house to build our own Linux business.

To which I replied (of course :-):

No doubt. So...why don't you?

As Monica reminded me, Mike Olson has already answered that question, though I continue to dislike it. It was a shrewd move, and one that puts everyone on notice that open source is a serious business battleground, and not necessarily a love fest. Darn it.

Oracle is building on the platform that its customers want (Red Hat). Its customers don't want Oracle to go out and create a new distribution, though the company has the expertise to do so. Oracle's customers want Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but they're willing to get it from Oracle so that they can consolidate their support.

For Oracle, it's not a moral decision. It's a numbers decision. Gartner reports that overall the overall RDBMS market grew 14% last year, but the Linux segment of that market grew at a 67% clip, with Oracle beating that number with a 72% growth rate on Linux. Where does this leave Oracle? With 82.6% of the LInux RDBMS market. That's $1.9B in Oracle revenue on the Linux platform (for databases, which means there's even more for Oracle's applications business that runs Linux).

Put in this light - that of raw numbers - Oracle's decision to step on its partners' Linux turf starts to make more sense, though it still doesn't make many friends. It would be nice if the company would stop uttering the untruth that its Linux offering is "fully compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux." it's not. It's a fork. But it's a fork that makes sense for Oracle in light of the data.

Oracle's business will increasingly depend on Linux. It's therefore not surprising that the company wants to own that critical piece of its infrastructure.

My question: why not just buy Red Hat? Before Red Hat buys MySQL, and gives those database numbers a run for their money?

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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