Larry loves Linux

Larry Ellison spent this year's Oracle Apps World dodging the rumours and speculation surrounding his company’s affair with PeopleSoft. Instead, the vendor’s chairman & CEO spent his time talking about fragmented data and, more importantly, how Oracle has consummated its relationship with the open source community. In fact, the vendor is so in love with Linux, it says all of its customers should be using it

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  July 24, 2003

|~||~||~|Larry Ellison loves Linux. In fact, Oracle’s chairman & CEO is such a big fan that he recommends that all of Oracle’s customers run their mid tier applications and databases on the open source operating systems.

“We think that for all your mid tier applications and all your database applications that are of a moderate softness, you should use low cost machines running Linux because they are cheaper and they run faster,” Ellison told customers during his keynote speech at this year’s Oracle Apps World.

Unsurprisingly, Ellison’s enthusiasm has spread throughout his organisation. Ron Wohl, executive vice president of applications development at Oracle, says running Linux on inexpensive hardware has been one of the biggest computing breakthroughs in recent times because it is not only five times cheaper but allows users to run applications roughly three times faster.

“The biggest breakthrough has been in hardware, in terms of moving from expensive machines to very fast, very cheap machines. This is down to Linux. Everyone of us should start running Linux at the middle tier because it is much faster, much cheaper and more reliable,” he says. “My recommendation is that 100% of people migrate to Linux for the middle tier. I also recommend that 75% of our customers would benefit from running their database on Linux as well,” Wohl adds.

Larry Ellison’s love affair with Linux began some time last year, when he decided that Oracle’s demonstration centre in Texas should be migrated en masse to the open source operating system.

||**|||~||~||~|However, despite Ellison’s commitment to Linux, the software giant’s sales force was less inclined to put their faith in Oracle’s US$6000 dollar Dell servers and the open source OS. “When I moved the demo machines to PCs and Linux we had this transition period where we had these big expensive servers and these little Linux machines. All of our sales consultants… said there was no way they were going to use a US$6000 box from Dell [running Linux] because they were trying to make a living. They wanted to use the big million dollar servers,” Ellison explains.

“However, every once in a while, they couldn’t get on the multimillion dollar servers and had to get on the US$6000 servers. What shocked them was that it ran three times faster. A 3GHz microprocessor runs three times faster than a 1GHz processor so the US$6000 machines ran faster. I didn’t [migrate to Linux] because I wanted to save money, but because I wanted to run demos much faster,” he says.

Since then, Oracle has migrated yet more of its working environments to Linux. According to Wohl, 60% of the vendor’s development environment runs on the open source OS and over half of its outsourcing customers also run on Linux.
Furthermore, every new customer that the vendor wins for its outsourcing business gets Linux at the middle tier.

“We have become increasingly convinced that Linux has come of age and is both mature and robust enough. Secondly, our eyes have been opened to the benefits around it, which is why we have been implementing our own applications on it,” adds Robert Fleming, senior director, applications & outsourcing, Oracle EMEA.

||**|||~||~||~|Oracle’s experience with Linux has led the vendor to put the open source OS at the heart of its current commitment to lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for its customers. “We are focused on driving down costs for our customers in every possible way, from automating software delivery and support to driving down costs by making it simple for you to run on the fastest and lowest cost hardware with Linux,” confirms Wohl. “What we have discovered is that in terms of cost and performance, Linux is far superior to any other platform. Consequently, as a value-add to our customers, we feel that we should be talking about it,” adds Fleming.

To encourage users to adopt Linux, Oracle used Apps World to unveil its Linux Platform Migration Utility offering. Available since the beginning of July, the tool provides customers with the ability to move existing Oracle apps from any platform to Linux. It retains the exact patch level and customisations of an implementation, eliminating the need for database synchronisation or re-tooling.

“Customers know that Linux provides superior performance at low cost, but a multi-month migration project is a formidable obstacle for anyone,” says Ayman Abouseif, senior marketing director, Middle East, Africa, Eastern & Central Europe, Oracle. “With the Linux Platform Migration Utility, customers can migrate more quickly to Linux and start realising cost savings earlier,” he adds.

While Oracle’s love affair with Linux may bear fruit in both North America and Europe, the local story may be somewhat different. Key to this is that while the awareness surrounding Linux has grown throughout the Middle East, there is still distinct lack of skills and support in the region.

“I personally haven’t seen much [Linux] in the local market due to the lack of skills,” confirms Ashim Pal, vice president, content & collaboration strategies, Meta Group.

||**|||~||~||~|Even those projects that have been completed, such as Al Ghurair Group’s migration of its E-Business Suite to the open source OS, appear to be the exception to the rule.

“Over the last few months IDC has tracked a number of companies switching over to Linux, including some banks. However, it can’t be taken as a rule and these are exceptional projects,” says Jyoti Lalchandani, regional director, IDC Middle East & North Africa.

“Also, often when you see migrations from NT to Linux it is not a complete migration, it is select and is often web servers or application server that are moved to Linux and the core functions will still be sitting on it,” adds Torben Pedersen, senior analyst, IDC Middle East & North Africa.

Just what Oracle intends to do to change this state of affairs is unclear. A number of the vendor’s senior executives, when pressed, argue that the development of Linux skills in the region is not their job, and that Oracle’s only requirement is to support it’s own applications.

“It is not our job to push Linux and create the Linux knowledge per se,” says Sergio Giacoletto, executive vice president, Oracle EMEA.

However, others believe that by pushing Oracle on Linux in the Middle East, awareness of Linux will grow by default. “We’re not solely responsible for Linux and we are only responsible for promoting the use of Oracle software on Linux… However, because we are talking about Oracle on Linux, you can easily take away the Oracle part and users will see the arguments surrounding the benefits of Linux,” says Fleming.

Abouseif is more positive, and reports that the vendor’s local operation is confident that the use of Linux within the Middle East will pick up around the beginning of 2004. “In between 6-12 months time you will start seeing people talking about deploying their environment on Linux and being in the middle of projects,” he says.

||**|||~||~||~|Key to this sea change will be the realisation, says Abouseif, that while pure Linux skills may be hard to come by, Unix skills that can easily be used in the open source environment are abundantly available.

“Any existing Unix administrator will find it very easy to adapt to Linux because they require the same system administration capabilities. There is no shortage of Unix systems administrators in the Middle East,” he says.

“At the same time, we provide first line support for Linux users through the same methods as we support Oracle applications. In other words, they will log a service request through the web, and it will go straight to the Linux group,” Abouseif adds.

Even more important than the realisation that there are skills available will be the shifting attitudes towards technology, argues the senior marketing director. “Previously, the idea was to buy a system that was proprietary and did all these clever things. Now we are saying just buy something with a couple of processors and run Linux. This is totally different, so you will just see early adopters until the momentum builds,” he says. ||**||

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