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Oracle: Quit messin' and marry Hadoop!

Why Larry should pop the question

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Open...and Shut Oracle isn't the biggest enterprise software vendor, but in 2010 it grew faster than its big-enterprise peers, including Microsoft and IBM, to claim third place. Being ever so ambitious, it's unlikely that Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison will be content to take the bronze. But it's equally unlikely that relational databases will be enough to power Oracle to the top of the enterprise heap.

Oracle needs Apache Hadoop, but risks missing its chance unless it moves quickly.

Hadoop, after all, is becoming the new Linux, with a plethora of companies, big and small, contributing to the Apache Software Foundation-led project and leveraging it in a bevy of new products. Yahoo!, which originally carried the project, is contemplating a startup focused on Hadoop. More promisingly, this week should see EMC release a Hadoop appliance and software distribution, according to The Wall Street Journal. They join IBM, eBay, Amazon, Facebook, and others already using Hadoop.

Oracle, to date, has been missing in action, preferring to push customers to its Exadata appliance in an attempt to leverage the hardware and software assets it acquired from Sun Microsystems.

Good luck with that.

The fact is that while the Visas of the world still see plenty of reason to use Oracle's relational databases, they also can't live without Hadoop and other NoSQL technologies. But among the NoSQL crowd, Hadoop is king, and more and more companies are finding ways to mix Hadoop with their Oracle assets, often in ways that cut Oracle database licensing costs by putting more data into Hadoop.

There's an easy way for Oracle to mitigate the Hadoop threat while simultaneously blessing its customers: buy into Hadoop by either partnering with an existing Hadoop player or by developing its own Hadoop distribution.

This latter approach is crowded and unlikely to succeed. But the former approach – an acquisition – fits Oracle's preferred model and conveniently could be accomplished by buying back one of its previous employees: Mike Olson, CEO of Cloudera, the frontrunner among Hadoop companies. Olson was CEO of Sleepycat, the open source database vendor Oracle bought back in 2006. Presumably Olson's desk is still vacant and ready for him.

An Oracle acquisition of Cloudera makes sense not only from this personal/personnel perspective, but also because Cloudera has already been working to integrate Hadoop with Oracle databases, through the "Ora-Oop" connector released in 2010. This connector makes it possible for Oracle customers to tap into Hadoop. It also, incidentally, makes it easier for such customers to leave the database giant.

Hadoop tends to be very developer-focused and, as such, not easy for an average DBA to pick up and use – although Cloudera has been working hard to make Hadoop more DBA-friendly. The easier Hadoop becomes, the more likely that DBAs will find Ora-Oop convenient to move data out of expensive Oracle and into open source Hadoop.

Oracle is familiar with this kind of threat, having dealt with it before in MySQL. Oracle bought Sun and its MySQL assets, muting MySQL as a threat even as Oracle has invested heavily in the open source database. The same can be true of Hadoop.

Left to fester, Hadoop will be viewed as alternative technology to Oracle's relational database. But brought into Oracle, Hadoop can be seen for what it should be: an excellent complement to Oracle databases.

As suggested, the easiest way to accomplish this is by buying Cloudera. But with so much at stake in Hadoop, Oracle needs to act fast, because there's no shortage of big players circling Hadoop to take it mainstream in enterprise computing. Cloudera will be on their shopping lists, too. ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears twice a week on The Register.

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