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What happened to Oracle's Red Hat challenge?

A year and a half after Oracle announced its ambitious plans to poach Red Hat support customers, what has changed?

It's been more than a year and a half since Oracle launched its aggressive bid to poach Red Hat's Linux support contracts -- and at the same time, imply that Red Hat wasn't good enough to support the operating system end of Oracle's applications. So where do things stand now? Red Hat's financial reports for its last fiscal year show annual revenue up 31%.

Has anyone ditched Red Hat for Oracle's Unbreakable Linux Support offering? What about Oracle Enterprise Linux -- any RHEL switchers? And more importantly, have Oracle's efforts really been a threat? If not, has Oracle found success nonetheless?

Decent growth
In March, Oracle announced that it had 2,000 customers for its Unbreakable Linux Support program, up from 1,500 in November.

"This indicates significant growth for the program, although we believe the vast majority of those customer wins are in Oracle-heavy accounts," notes Matt Aslett, an analyst of enterprise software for The 451 Group, based in New York. "While a lot of focus was initially placed on the fact that Unbreakable Linux is cheaper than Red Hat's support, the price is insignificant when compared to support costs for Oracle's own database and application products, and we believe the main selling point for most Unbreakable Linux customers is not cost but convenience."

So if Unbreakable Linux is merely convenient, what about Oracle's version of Linux, Oracle Enterprise Linux, which is nearly identical to Red Hat's RHEL?

"From conversations with Oracle, I believe they feel their attempts to grow their own Linux business have been successful -- and they have been able to cite a handful of poached accounts as evidence for this," said Stephen O'Grady, an industry analyst for Redmonk, a Seattle-based research firm. "Generally speaking, however, I see little evidence to suggest that Oracle has been successful on any wide scale in attacking Red Hat's business."

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George Weiss, vice president and distinguished analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., doesn't think Oracle was particularly successful in targeting Red Hat support contracts -- but the company has been successful in helping spur the adoption of Linux in the enterprise and, as a side effect, has driven some business to Red Hat.

Of those 2,000 customers, Oracle isn't saying how many are using RHEL vs. Oracle Enterprise Linux with or without an Oracle support contract.

"If they are using Oracle Linux, they feel more comfortable for mission-critical environments to have a single vendor responsible for top to bottom," Weiss said. "A second motivation is that they sometimes haven't had good experiences with Red Hat on previous support and feel it's too risky to count on Red Hat for something as complex as clustered systems, the Oracle database, administration, performance, and architecting and so on."

Monica Kumar, Oracle's senior director of Linux and Open Source product marketing, said its customers represent a broad mix of industries and sizes.

"There is one trend that is common among all of them, which is, the systems they are going for to get support from Oracle are mostly business-critical systems," Kumar said, noting that Oracle doesn't keep track of whether they are on RHEL or Oracle Enterprise Linux -- "because the support is the same on our side."

Multiple reasons customers move
Bonnier Corp. -- a magazine publisher of Field & Stream, Parenting, Outdoor Life, Sport Diver and more than three dozen other titles -- recently shifted its support contract from Red Hat and moved two Oracle installations off RHEL 4 to create three systems running on Oracle Enterprise Linux.

"I had heard from other users that they had good success with Oracle Enterprise Linux, and if they had issues, Oracle support was very knowledgeable and helpful," explained Scott Baker, a database administration manager for Bonnier. "The Oracle version is based on the Red Hat kernel, so we knew we'd have a stable version of Linux -- and any tweaks or changes they made would be to the benefit of the database server."

From a support perspective, Bonnier also likes the idea of having Oracle support available for both database and operating system angles.

The third reason, of course, is cost. Bonnier already has some Linux administrators on staff, so the company didn't need high levels of support. "In comparing the minimum support offerings, the Oracle offering was about a third of the cost from Red Hat," Baker said, noting that Bonnier plans to standardize on Oracle Enterprise Linux with Oracle support for all new Oracle-based installations.

As for RHEL, it's still in play at Bonnier, too -- with non-Oracle workloads.

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