Oracle brass coax Sun troops with tough love
Commits to MySQL and open Java
Exclusive Oracle's senior management has expressed its love for Sun Microsystems' software and hardware but warned tough decisions are coming on what people and products stay.
President Charles Phillips and chief corporate architect Edward Screven have committed to keeping Java open and to not killing MySQL. They also mocked the idea Oracle would simply shut down or close off certain technologies and talked tough on Oracle's smarts as a hardware vendor.
The pair were participating in a town-hall meeting with chief executive Jonathan Schwartz for Sun employees at the company's Menlo Park, California campus on Wednesday.
While expressing his admiration for Sun's engineering talent during the event, Phillips said that it's too early to know which staff would be getting chopped or will stay with Oracle, but that cuts are coming.
"It's early days to be talking about exactly who will fill what slot," Phillips warned. "We know there are tons of talented people here. We can't run the company without those talented people. People build some of these products - we need them. We will make the tough decisions as the right time comes along - but we do recognize we need help."
He noted there had been no decision on which members of Sun's current board will be joining Oracle if the proposed $5.6bn acquisition goes through.
Screven, a 23-year Oracle veteran who reports directly to chief executive Larry Ellison, threw out one bone, noting a large number of Oracle employees have joined through its four-year long acquisition spree. "We really look for the top talent and top products. We are completely dispassionate about were they Oracle before or not," Screven said.
The meeting came two days after Oracle announced its plan to purchase Sun. It's Oracle's second pass at Sun, following an earlier joint proposal with Hewlett-Packard - blocked by IBM - that would have seen HP get Sun's hardware and Oracle buy Sun's software.
Asked specifically about the future of OpenOffice by one Sun employee, Phillips said he couldn't comment on any product line or set but noted it's something Oracle will be examining. Sun is the largest contributor to OpenOffice.org and has made a principle of using the suite as its corporate standard for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.
With an email and productivity offering of its own - and given OpenOffice lags Microsoft Office by years - the omens for OpenOffice are not good, even though - Schwartz claimed - "the point's not lost on Oracle we are adding three million users a week."
The end of the cloud?
Screven dodged on Oracle's plans for Sun's work on high-performance computing. "You can be sure if it's a fast growing product for Sun, it's probably going to attract our attention," he said. Also, it's looking like the end of the line for any work Sun's done on cloud.
Ellison has dismissed the concept of cloud computing in the past.
Screven backed this line, saying Oracle's focus on cloud is as an infrastructure provider delivering virtualization and management technology to let customers build their own clouds.
There were greater re-assurances on Java and MySQL. There's a huge question mark hanging over what Oracle will do with Java, given that Sun tries to lead the Java community, its name is on so many Java specs, and the fact that it open sourced Java.
Phillips called Sun's work on embedded Java "exciting" while Screven pointed to the fact that Java middleware is the fastest growing part of Oracle's business.
Screven dismissed the idea Oracle would close source Java, noting its openness would help further Oracle's middleware business. "It would be pretty crazy of us to turn Java into some sort of private, hidden technology. A lot of the appeal of Java is it's open. The fact it's open makes our middleware more appealing...It would be pretty wacky to try and close that off," Screven said.
On MySQL, concerns span whether Oracle will kill the product, stop development, or close off the community. Phillips said MySQL has reach in "incremental markets" such as start-ups that Oracle can't get to on its own. And citing PeopleSoft, Phillips said Oracle has a track record of improving the technology and level of support of products it has purchased.
"We need that reach and want them learning SQL early. The number of customers we have that started on other databases and migrated over time for reasons of their own, that's good for us. We need to get them to learn that product and SQL...people experiment with a variety of things and that's a good thing," Phillips said.
"We have a track record of saying we know what to do. We are not going to kill off any product. It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars and start killing off products. We want to let as many survive as possible," he said.
Phillips and Screven also tried to re-assure employees that Oracle is not about to sell of the hardware business, saying Oracle's not as inexperienced at working with hardware as many think. According to Phillips, Oracle's experience comes from tuning its software to partners' hardware. Oracle engineers have also helped develop the Linux kernel.
"We know a little bit more about hardware than people think because we have to port across all these product lines...it seems like we just build software and throw it over the wall, but it's not the way it works," Phillips said.
Again, Phillips wouldn't commit to specific products, but he confirmed what we've suspected: that Oracle is very interested in open source where it helps Oracle's proto appliance business. He flagged up Sun's open storage as having "enormous advantage" in helping transform the storage market.
"If you control the data, the creation of the date, the archiving back up and the recovery of it, you can add a lot of value," Phillips said
As for specific x86, mid-range of high-end Sparc processors, Phillips again avoided details but claimed all Sun's processors look appealing. Screven added: "When we were considering the acquisition we studied the processor lines and benchmarked things - we needed to be comfortable with the fact these were hardware platforms, systems, that we were going to keep selling and developing...we are very comfortable."
Backing Phillips and Screven, Schwartz tired to reassure Sun employees Oracle wasn't about to simply spin off parts of Sun, such as server manufacturing and storage.
Schwartz added: "In my interaction with the folks from Oracle this has been about re-drawing the lines...This was not about 'Let's go get that and figure out how to ditch this.'"
"In 55 acquisitions, we have never spun off anything," Phillips added.
Not yet at least. ®