Sun shops unnerved by Oracle Alpha man
The Larry Factor
It's open season on customers running Sun Microsystems.
On Tuesday -the day before Oracle was due to announce which Sun products it's keeping and their roadmaps - Sun nemesis IBM's tried once more to exploit lingering uncertainty over Sun's products that's been generated by the Oracle purchase.
IBM's updated Migration Factory will feature software that automates moving applications and middleware from Sun's Solaris to Linux or IBM's AIX operating systems.
Migration campaigns have been a regular feature of the rough-and-tumble relationship between IBM, Sun, and Hewlett-Packard over the years
This time, though, the offers go beyond the usual day-to-day competitive swipes, seeking to exploit some very real concerns over the future for Sun's hardware and software under Oracle.
And while Sun's chief executive Jonathan Schwartz and Oracle's top brass have made great play about how their multi-billion-dollar deal will deliver fully integrated systems to the benefit of all, these re-assurances address only some concerns of the Sun faithful.
Customers are bothered by how much control they'll be ceding over things like licensing negotiations and the leverage they'll have over their IT supplier once they become even more dependent on Oracle. Also, people are worried about what impact the red-blooded Oracle's corporate culture will have on the their vendor relationship.
Oracle software licensing and support specialist Rocela told The Reg that 30 per cent of its users feel this way. These are companies already running Sun and Oracle, and they are not the type that are easily intimidated. They include major multinationals and big household names in retail, banking, manufacturing, and power.
Martin Mutch, Rocela chief executive, said it's the complexity of Oracle's licensing that makes Sun customers feel like they're about to lose control to the database giant.
This complexity will make it harder for them to determine if they are getting genuine value from their licensing if - and when - Oracle increases the prices of the old vendor's products. Oracle's sales reps are notorious for making hefty discounts in the field.
Sun users became comfortable in their relationship with their IT supplier. The problem for Oracle is they equated Sun with nice values like "innovation" and "integrity" and rated its employees as being "quite nice people." Oracle has a reputation for "business value" and maximizing its own earnings per share, with users worried Oracle will be the dominant partner.
"There's a nervousness about how this will work," Mutch said.
He noted Oracle's rambunctious and Alpha-male CEO Larry Ellison is also preying on customers' minds, with people gripped by a love-hate relationship with the man. Mutch said that while Ellison is known for turning out "good product" and having a good management structure in place "there's always that sense of what's he going to do next?".
When it does come to products, uncertainty over the roadmap has already seen customers slip away - to open source. Oracle executives have been trying to stop this with re-assurance by PowerPoint. Much could depend on what Oracle announces Wednesday.
Among those going have been customers of more than 10 years using Sun's Java application server, Sun ONE, or Solaris on the server. They have gone to JBoss and Tomcat on the application server and Red Hat, Ubuntu, and even - shock, horror - Sun's own OpenSolaris in the cloud, along with Amazon Web Services for compute and storage.
Freedom OSS chief technology architect Max Yankelevich claimed his company's moved up to 75 customers partially or fully off Sun's middleware and Solaris in the last eight months. He reckoned everything from back-office to websites is moving off Sun kit.
He pointed to cost, desire to avoid lock, concern about the lifespan of products and also over Oracle potentially pushing up the price of the Sun software as key factors. When it comes to lock-in and lifespan, many of the Sun ONE users bought in early on, more than 10 years back, in the mistaken belief Sun would be aggressive on Java application servers. It wasn't and they've been dependent on Sun ever since and stuck in maintenance mode.
"When the patient is open we suggest they look at cloud based design and open-source software, and it clicks well," Yankelevich said. He added the advent of cloud has added a new opportunity for organizations to run systems on a per-use basis.
Sun's hardware and Solaris has also suffered and could continue to take hits, even if Oracle retains some of the software business. A healthy part of Oracle's database business runs on Solaris. Customers such as those using Rocela, though, are now alarmed at the prospect of Oracle becoming their primary supplier of both their database and servers.
In this situation, the easiest move has been to keep the Oracle database and simply put it on a new server. "In the last six moths, where there have been server refreshes, Solaris has lost to HP and IBM. That will continue unless Oracles appeases those clients," Mutch said.
Wednesday, 27 January will be an important day for Oracle and Sun. Yes, it'll finally mean the roadmap is laid out for Oracle's products and those of Sun's that survive. It'll also potentially mean Oracle can end some of the uncertainty that's helped others prosper.
The problem for Oracle is that much damage has already been done and the very values that Sun and Oracle have sold the deal on - of integrated systems - will send a good number of customers running in the opposite direction, to regain control over the relationship with their technology supplier. ®