Oracle's plan to get into the open source Linux operating systems business by offering full support for Red Hat Linux should ultimately have the intended effect of helping to increase the adoption of grid computing architectures, according to IT experts.
Oracle chairman Larry Ellison announced the new Red Hat support offering at Oracle's recent OpenWorld conference in San Francisco, saying that the move is designed to increase the adoption of Linux, and in turn the adoption of grid computing.
Tony Iams, a vice president and senior analyst with Ideas International in Port Chester, New York, said that Oracle could definitely make the case that supporting Linux will help to prop up grid computing. But to understand how, he said, one must first understand the relationship between grid computing and virtualization.
"If you follow where virtualization is going, there is currently a movement, driven by companies such as VMWare, to deliver and then promote these so-called virtual appliances where you have a tight bond between an application and the operating system on which that application is hosted," Iams explained. "The unit of work, if you will, becomes this combination of an application and an operating system, and they usually run on some form of virtual machine."
Iams went on to say that by getting into the Linux business, Oracle is putting itself in a position to exploit this trend.
"This is going to make it easier for Oracle to deliver their own customized virtualized appliances which combine their distribution of Linux with Oracle software, and then [they'll] have the ability to ship that within virtual machines as a way of hosting a workload," he said. "Now, when you couple that scheme with sophisticated resource management tools that work over large networks and global networks, that is where you now enable grid computing to take place."
Iams said that one caveat is that this progression leads to the purest definition of grid computing, and not necessarily the definition that Oracle currently uses. When Oracle refers to grid computing today, they're essentially referring to clusters, he said.
"You could view this coupling of their own operating system and their own software as a step in that direction where some people believe grid computing is going to go in a pure sense," he said. "It's more of a holistic way where you now truly transport workloads across the network to be run where the resources are."
Anne Thomas Manes, a vice president and research director with the Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, points out that Oracle has long promoted its systems as being grid-capable, meaning that the applications can be deployed on Linux clusters.
"If they don't believe that Red Hat is doing a good job at supporting high-volume systems based on Linux grids, then I can understand that Oracle feels that they have to do it themselves," said Manes, adding that she's not sure if the quality of Red Hat's support for grid or clusters is good or bad.
Red Hat probably not too surprised
One of the main risks associated with starting an open source software business, say experts, is that another vendor can always come along, clone the software and offer to support it at a cheaper rate -- just like Oracle is doing to Red Hat.
"There has always been a risk that a larger player would come along and exploit the market position that a smaller player had developed by simply harvesting the technology," Iams said. "That has always been allowed under the open source terms and now it has played out. The Red Hat planners must have known that this day would come."
That's why firms in the open source business need to constantly strengthen their offerings in various ways that lie outside of the technology itself. Iams said open source firms don't have the advantage of proprietary lock-in, so they need to focus on partner relationships, development and providing high levels of customer support.
"It's just a different way of competing and Red Hat has a lot of experience competing in that world," he said. "Oracle's plan should not have come as too big a surprise to them."