Commodity Sun x86 server users not feeling the love from Oracle

Mark Fontecchio

Some x86 Sun users, particularly those running Solaris, are feeling left out of the loop, saying they don’t receive much support from Oracle.

It shouldn't come as a surprise. Top Oracle executives have explicitly said they don’t care about the commodity x86 server market – typically 1U or 2U rack servers – because of their low profit margins.

“I don’t care if our commodity x86 business goes to zero,” CEO Larry Ellison said during an earnings call last year. “We don’t make any money selling those things.”

Instead, Oracle, which acquired Sun Microsystems Inc. in 2010, is pushing its so-called engineered systems, including Exadata, Exalogic and Exalytics. All of these have embedded x86 server technology  but come at a much higher price range -- as in seven or eight figures instead of four or five.

That said, Oracle doesn’t plan on stopping development of its x86 technology because its large and expensive engineered systems are built on it. But development alone doesn’t seem to satisfy former Sun enthusiasts, who feel like Oracle is pulling away from them.

More on Oracle Sun server hardware

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Bill Bradford is a former Sun customer who feels he’s been hung out to dry. Bradford is a senior systems administrator at a Texas-based energy firm that uses x86 technology, but perhaps more importantly, he created and still runs sunhelp.org, a site for assisting Sun system administrators.

“We still have a few Sun x86 boxes around, but none have been purchased in the past year or two, and the ones we do have left are running Red Hat Enterprise Linux,” he said about his day job. “Solaris on x86 was never a target platform for us, and after the Oracle acquisition, we accelerated moving things off of Solaris and Sparc as well.”

Bradford later added that Oracle’s behavior before, during and after the Sun acquisition “embittered and alienated years of goodwill” that Sun had with the hobbyist, developer, sysadmin and small business community.

The small business community side of things raises questions about how new customers might find their way to Oracle hardware, seeing as the company is deemphasizing more affordable x86 commodity servers. The Sun Help site, for example, operates on a hand-built x86 system running Debian Linux instead of Solaris.

“Oracle priced me out of being able to legally use Solaris x86 and obtain patches for it,” he said. “When your own most fervent supporters can’t use your OS, you know something is wrong.”

David Robillard had a similar story from when he was a systems administrator at Notarius Inc., a Montreal-based nonprofit that issues digital signatures to Canadian professionals and their business firms. His team was running a mix of several different Unix and Linux machines, 200 of which were FreeBDS, Red Hat, CentOS, Ubuntu, AIX or Solaris on x86. They set out to choose a single platform, if possible.

Robillard had been steeped in the Sun community since 1998, so he proposed Sun x86. He mentioned self-healing, Solaris ZFS and networking features as reasons for his suggestion, but he ran into some road blocks.

First, his team was comprised largely of “a younger breed of systems administrators” who grew up on Linux.

“So the simple idea of having to apply patches to Solaris was alone sufficient to deter them,” he said. “And the Solaris x86 community is not as huge as the Linux one. So for them it was harder to find help with Solaris x86.”

Robillard added that “Oracle itself didn’t have Solaris x86 as a tier-one platform for their Oracle RDBMS.” So in the end, Notarius settled on a mix of Red Hat and CentOS.

“As a manager who knows how great Solaris is, I kept pushing for it,” he said. “But it simply didn't catch for this younger generation of systems administrators.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Fontecchio is the editor of SearchOracle.com. You can find him on Twitter @markfontecchio.

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