Oracle's cloud offerings act as disruptor -- to its own business

Cutbacks in hardware and support staffing for Solaris and Sparc accompany large investments in Oracle cloud offerings. However, a new roadmap pledges continued support into the 2030s.

Oracle executives use the term "disruptive" to describe its newest platforms, and disruption appears to be especially true of how Oracle cloud offerings are affecting the company's own employees.

Reports indicate Oracle has quietly moved to lay off workers in its hardware division, at the same time that it brings on new talent for its massive cloud undertaking.

Sparc and Solaris are both part of Oracle's cloud plans, but reductions in hardware and support staffing suggest on-premises Solaris and Sparc will become more rare. In addition, Solaris updates will come as a series of continuous dot updates, rather than major releases.

Oracle has an incentive to see such systems move to cloud, according to Dan Kusnetzky, founder and managing partner at IT market research firm Kusnetzky Group.

"Planners at Oracle are looking at where the next multimillion business is going to show up. And they are investing their money accordingly," he said. "Helping people move to an Oracle cloud environment might make better sense than helping them stay where they are."

Reduced cost-of-ownership for software as a service applications, reduced investment in corporate data centers, and a move to interpreted programming languages that transport easily to x86 cloud systems are among forces that can drive Solaris/Sparc users from on-premises to cloud, Kusnetzky said.

The momentum toward the Oracle cloud offerings is strong, and ebbing of some existing systems is not unexpected, said one Sparc and Solaris systems user who has been following this story.

"Oracle sees the benefits of migration to the cloud with lower cost, minimized security risks, and agile scaling as a few of the major benefits," said David Reynolds, systems manager with the Rhode Island Blood Center in Providence.

He said his organization, like others, will move away from existing architecture and evaluate alternatives, both on-premises and in the cloud.

As an architecture, Sparc and Solaris, which Oracle acquired along with Sun Microsystems in 2010, "is old hat," said Kusnetzky.

"There is a great deal of interest in moving enterprise applications to cloud, or replacing them with cloud-based services, because people believe they will reduce their costs at facilities," he said, adding that claims of cost savings may, or may not, prove to be true.

Up with the cloud

The moves to reduce hardware headcount come just a week after Oracle again touted the many developers it hired away from cloud hotbeds such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google. Increasingly, the company has publicized its ability to employ such talent to match hardware and software to cloud architecture needs. But that tends to place some Solaris/Sparc technologists in the realm of "legacy."

According to a story by The Mercury News, Oracle last week informed the California State Employment Development Department of plans to lay off about 450 employees in its Santa Clara, Calif., hardware systems division. That follows reports of as many as 1,800 layoffs, including job losses within the hardware division in the U.S. and elsewhere.

When reached for comment, Oracle public relations would not confirm the layoffs. Separately, a source within Oracle said word of hardware division layoffs was circulated within the company as recently as December.

In its letter to California state employment authorities, the company positioned the moves at its Santa Clara facility as a reorganization, rather than a staff reduction. That is reflected in Oracle job postings. At the time this was written, a keyword search including the term cloud of open Oracle positions on the company website retrieved 3,687 job entries.

Meanwhile, use of Sparc hardware and the associated Solaris operating system began to slip even before Oracle's 2010 purchase of Sun Microsystems. A 2016 survey by IT Candor set Oracle's share of a $72.2 billion 2015 server market at $1.9 billion, or 2.5%.

Oracle updates Sparc, Solaris roadmap

As a form of response to the news of hardware division layoffs, Oracle posted its most recent roadmap for Sparc and Solaris on its blog.

Oracle is extending Premier Support for Solaris 11 until at least 2031 and Extended Support until 2034. The company will replace the conventional release sequence with continuous delivery of new functions not requiring users to upgrade -- a move that axes a planned Solaris 12 release from the roadmap. Now planned for later this year are Sparc Next and Solaris 11.Next. The former improves throughput by 1.4 times, while the latter focuses on cloud deployment enhancements.

The time frame for support shows that the systems acquired from Sun still have some room, as is often the case with systems in place. For his part, Kusnetzky cautioned that change takes time, and he chafes at describing Sparc/Solaris -- or any "working system" -- as "legacy."

"If you step inside the data center of most organizations, you could classify it as a computer museum -- there are mainframes, old x86 systems, some forms of Unix," he said. But equipment like Sparc servers are often "like the wiring in the wall," doing what is expected of them, and somewhat overlooked, he continued.

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