Editor's Note: What Goes Around
Nov 10, 2006, 23:30 (16 Talkback[s])
Re-Imagining Linux Platforms to Meet the Needs of Cloud Service Providers
By Brian Proffitt
While the rest of the open source world reels from the
Oracle-spanks-Red Hat and Microsoft-embraces-Novell news, it left
me wondering, where does this leave Sun Microsystems?
There are, I'm sure, a fair number of you out there that are
thinking "who cares"? And I would tend to agree. In my bi-weekly
column over on ServerWatch, though, I examined the potential fate
of Sun and its Solaris operating system, and the prospects do not
look good for either in the enterprise server space.
That was taking only Sun into consideration. As I delved into
the archives to put the ServerWatch piece together, I kept bumping
into something that many are aware of, but perhaps not paying too
much attention: the Canonical-Sun connection. This is no big
secret, mind you, but I cannot help but wonder if we are starting
to see a larger trend take place in the commercial Linux world.
The bridge between Sun and Canonical is fairly straightforward:
Sun is supporting Canonical's Ubuntu on its UltraSPARC T1 boxes
and, more recently announced, on its x86-based Sun Fire X4100 and
X4200 servers, and Sun Ultra 20 and 40 Workstations. That latter
piece of news almost got lost in the deluge of the Novell/Microsoft
prom, and that's too bad, since any hardware vendor's support of
Linux is still a nice thing. Granted, the shock of Sun going with
Canonical instead of one of the "big" players faded after the
initial announcement last May, but I believe the announcement is
As I mentioned last week, the Oracle and Microsoft news is
evidence that proprietary software companies now recognized Linux
as a player in the IT arena. I am still holding out on whether this
recognition is such a good thing, however. The advancement of the
Sun-Canonical relationship is really just further evidence of that.
The trend, to me, seems clear: proprietary companies are more
willing than ever to directly deal with open source companies
or--as in Oracle's case--open source software.
This leads me to my main question: is anyone willing to deal
with Red Hat?
To answer that, let's look at why Oracle, Microsoft, and Sun are
coming to the open source table.
Oracle's motivation is pretty clear: they believe the best way
to win the market is to own the stack, from operating system to
middleware to application set. They had that pretty well in hand
with their earlier partnership with Red Hat, until Red Hat went out
and acquired JBoss and started building a stack of their own. Their
move to distribute and support their own Linux is just a way to
re-assert their stack-worthiness.
Microsoft's motivation is less clear, because--for me, at
least--it's harder to figure out. According to the origin story
related to the public, it was actually Novell's Ron Hovsepian who
went to Microsoft and extended the hand of partnership. His
motivation was very clear: Novell needed an edge against Red Hat.
Now we are all left trying to figure out why Microsoft took them up
on their offer. The most likely rationale seems to be they saw a
chance to marginalize Red Hat, which was coming up fast. But I am
more than willing to entertain other theories.
Sun's partnership with Canonical is also direct: at the end of
the day, Sun wants to sell boxes. They don't care if they are
running Solaris, Linux, or even Windows. They want to ship shiny
purple machines. Period. In the past, Sun had a decent, though
strained, relationship with Red Hat because they were the biggest
commercial Linux game in town. But the two companies never really
got along that well. Several Sun employees, past and present, told
me that much of their animosity towards Red Hat was due to the
high-handedness Red Hat treated Sun and the expense of Red Hat's
pricing model. It's easy to dismiss those comments coming from the
maker of Solaris, but believe me when I tell you, these kinds of
comments were made a lot of firms concerning Red Hat.
So, the one common thread to these three companies moving into
the open source space the way they have recently seems to be in
direct response to animosity with Red Hat. You'd expect Microsoft
to be in the enemy camp, but it is a bit disheartening to see that
vendors who should have no reason not to work with Red Hat are
shifting away from Red Hat so strongly.
Which brings me back to my question: is anyone willing to deal
with Red Hat?
Right now, if anyone is willing to lift a finger and help the
beleaguered company, it might be IBM. IBM probably doesn't care
about Oracle's plan to clone Red Hat code and support for itself
IBM doesn't care about stacks. But they do care about shipping--you
guessed it--shiny black boxes. Sun's expansion of its arrangement
with Canonical last week is a direct threat to IBM's commercial
goal. More purple boxes equals less potential customers for black
Alongside that, the Microsoft-Novell deal may threaten IBM, too.
Presumably any integration deal Novell is a part of will use
commoditized x86 white boxes. Again, less of a market for new IBM
server sales (though IBM may be able to shoehorn their way into
legacy systems' support).
Clearly, IBM would be benefited by some sort of stronger
partnership with Red Hat. Perhaps even an acquisition. But even if
it didn't go that far, IBM's Global Services division would be a
very good fit to take over or supplement Red Hat Linux support. And
goodness knows, Red Hat could really use a friend right now.
Because without friends, Red Hat's going to have a long road
back to recovery.