Oracle’s immediate and long-term future is intertwined with the Linux operating system and grid computing, according to Robert Shimp, the company’s vice president of database product marketing. Shimp, speaking at CeBIT America in New York City at the beginning of the summer, quoted his boss Larry Ellison’s comment that Oracle "will run our whole business on Linux." Shimp presented facts to back up the claim and provided a progress report on how the transition to the open source OS is progressing. The following details what Shimp has to say about Oracle's interest in Linux.
Oracle's transition to Linux, according to Shimp, is substantial. The first priority was to validate that the core OS—assuming enterprise-level support is established—can provide more bang for the buck than proprietary operating systems. Oracle’s answer is that it can. Shimp compared the speed and costs of two typical data center implementations running Oracle apps, one running two Linux CPUs and the other two UNIX/RISC-based devices. Linux was an across-the-board winner. It had a faster average response time (1.3 seconds vs. 1.7 seconds), a faster 90 percent response time (2.2 seconds vs. 3.8 seconds) and costs less ($5,333 vs. $8,860).
This is the sort of price/performance comparison that led Oracle to cast its lot with Linux. But Linux demands a tremendous amount of attention before it is ready for corporate use in mission-critical applications. Oracle’s efforts to achieve this level of stability, named "Unbreakable Linux," are ongoing, Shimp said. They focus on three things that customers tell Oracle they want before they'll switch key systems to the Linux OS:
- It must work reliably.
- It must be supported by mainstream companies.
- It must operate in an environment where applications from a variety of vendors are available.
Clearly, Oracle is one of the companies best positioned to meet these criteria. To try to do so, Shimp said, Oracle rolled out a substantial Linux program in June, 2002. It features a development effort with Linux vendors, creation of substantial Linux support within Oracle, and the porting of all Oracle apps to Linux. Oracle’s quality assurance department became directly involved in developing and testing Linux and its components. "I believe we’ve made a dramatic improvement in the quality of the code," Shimp said.
Upgrades on the horizon
To date, Oracle has made Linux "database-grade," Shimp said. The company also has greatly upgraded its security and is working to provide the uptime levels necessary for operation in the telecommunications sector. "That’s a significant ongoing effort," Shimp said.
Regarding security, Shimp said Oracle has helped Red Hat come close to achieving Evaluation Assurance Level 2 (EAL2) and is defining a path to EAL4, which is "extremely high level." Linux security, he said, is "very good, but not excellent." The expectation is that excellence in Linux security will be reached in a couple of years. Shimp said that the company runs Oracle.com, its financial systems, its demonstration systems, and its online retrieval systems on Linux. "We’ve taken this very, very seriously at Oracle," he said.
The analysts agree
While neither attended Shimp’s speech, two analysts generally verified a high level of involvement by Oracle with Linux. For one thing, Oracle brings the kind of security only big players can provide. "IDC’s survey-based research has repeatedly shown that vendor support for both applications and application development and deployment tools has been a concern of IT decision-makers about deploying Linux-based solutions," wrote Dan Kusnetzky, IDC’s vice president for system software research, in an e-mail. "Oracle’s announcements have tended to remove some of those concerns."
Ted Schadler, Forrester’s principal analyst for software, was even more emphatic. "Oracle has been a huge force in Linux," he wrote. "Oracle has been investing in Linux since 1998 and now offers a great database on Linux clusters, Oracle9iRAC. This clustering technology means that Linux-on-Intel can now scale to the enterprise."
The future's with the grid
Linux will play a key role in any interrelated technology Oracle is embracing. Grid, as the name implies, refers to an electrical-style infrastructure in which computing power can be delegated between servers and other computers in an as-needed fashion. So, for instance, servers in the human resources department that are essentially unused at 3:00 A.M. can be used by the inventory department, which often goes full throttle at such times. Indeed, some grid scenarios can employ unused computing power halfway across the globe—a server in Tokyo can be used to help crunch numbers in New York City, or vice versa, depending on the time. "All in our industry are struggling to find a better model for grid computing," Shimp said. "Oracle has a huge engineering effort to develop the bulk of what we need to do."