What Oracle Would Get With Sun Acquisition

The acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle, if it is closed as expected, would give Oracle a company whose business model has been rocky but would bring it some of the industry's top hardware and software technology and strengthen its open-source offerings.

Oracle on Monday said it plans to acquire Sun in a $7.4 billion deal announced shortly after an earlier bid by IBM to acquire Sun fell through.

Oracle and Sun have had complementary businesses for years, and a significant if not majority portion of Oracle's installed base has been on Sun hardware and Sun's Solaris operating system.

The proposed acquisition of Sun would force Oracle to decide how much of a hardware vendor it wants to be, as the software side of Sun is very compatible with Oracle's product offerings.

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Oracle is one of the IT industry's largest software vendors, with core competencies in databases, middleware and other business applications, and an acquisition of Sun would bring a wide range of complementary technologies with limited overlapping of its existing products.

Sun would bring Oracle the MySQL database, based on open-source technology. Sun currently provides the MySQL database as a free download, with customers paying Sun and/or its solution providers for support.

Database software, on the other hand, is Oracle's primary revenue generator.

Oracle would have a few options with MySQL. Its first choice would be whether to keep or sell or kill MySQL. Keeping it, and maintaining its open-source availability, would give Oracle a strong weapon with which to increase its competitiveness against Microsoft's SQL Server and IBM's DB2 database applications.

This could be especially true if Oracle was able to target MySQL deployments at either smaller customers it currently does not serve or at departments or branch offices of customers of its own database software, thereby pushing its rivals out of such opportunities. However, there would be a balancing act in such a scenario in that Oracle would want to protect its existing market.

Oracle also could sell or kill MySQL. Selling it might mean competition for Oracle in the long term, but at the same time would continue the competition against SQL Server and DB2. Killing MySQL, however, could cause an uproar in the open-source community and play into the hands of Microsoft and IBM.

The other software technology with overlap between Oracle and Sun is security, especially identity management. The acquisition would allow Oracle to combine the code between the two, potentially making it a stronger offering.

Security also is an important component of Sun's Solaris operating system. Solaris, which Sun has brought to open source, has traditionally been tied to Sun's proprietary hardware, but has more recently been ported to the x86-based market, both on Sun's x86-based servers and those from competitors such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

Oracle could continue the development of Solaris as a way to not only provide a secure base on which to deploy its software stack, but as a competitive tool against archrival Microsoft and its Windows-based operating systems.

Oracle is currently a strong supporter of Red Hat Linux, so there might be concerns that a push to develop Solaris could lessen the Red Hat support.

With Solaris also comes Sun's ZFS file system, which provides advanced data security and data management features.

Another key software prize is the Java programming language, which was developed by Sun but is now an open-source project. Java is currently in use in more than 800 million PCs and 2.1 billion mobile phones and handheld devices, according to Sun.

Oracle also would get the StarOffice suite of office software. Microsoft's Office suite is the primary competitor to Sun's StarOffice and its free-of-charge, open-source version, OpenOffice.org. So this part of the acquisition would give Oracle another powerful tool for competing with Microsoft.

Oracle also might find useful Sun's server virtualization technology, including its Solaris Containers and its Xen-based xVM, another platform for continued development. Oracle also has its own virtualization technology, Oracle VM, which it offers for free.

Sun also would bring to Oracle a wide range of other software technologies, including its GlassFish application server, high performance computing (HPC) and clustering, and a wide range of Web services.

Next: To Be, Or Not To Be, A Hardware Vendor

With Sun's hardware portfolio, Oracle would have several harder choices to make.

The biggest choice is just how much of a hardware vendor Oracle wants to be.

Oracle currently merely dabbles in hardware. The company currently offers a database appliance that combines its software with an HP server. Furthermore, its CEO, Larry Ellison, has a separate venture capital fund that has invested heavily in a storage vendor, Pillar Data. Pillar Data, however, is a separate company from Oracle.

An acquisition of Sun would give Oracle server platforms based on SPARC, Intel and AMD; a storage portfolio that combines a move to embrace flash memory and solid state drives for performance as well as development of legacy StorageTek technology; a line of thin clients; and the SPARC microprocessor line.

While Sun's main strength in the past was its SPARC-based servers, its server business has suffered revenue-wise as the appetite for its larger servers has waned.

However, Sun has one of the fastest-growing x86-based server businesses, in terms of unit sales. Its x86-based server line includes models with up to 32 cores, as well as a line of 2U rack-mount servers with up to four quad-core processors. The server lineup includes blade servers as well.

Sun's SPARC-based servers also have done well at the entry level.

And while Sun's legacy "big iron" business has been falling, an acquisition would give Oracle a new maintenance revenue stream.

By keeping the x86-based server business, Oracle would be in direct competition with system vendors, including Dell, HP and IBM.

Oracle would likely not be too worried about getting into the hardware business vis-a-vis IBM, as most of the database business going on IBM hardware is IBM's DB2, so Sun servers would give Oracle another tool for competing with Big Blue.

However, keeping the Sun server line could force other server vendors such as Dell and HP to grow closer to Microsoft, giving Microsoft's SQL Server a more competitive edge against Oracle than in the past.

Sun's storage business has been the weakest part of its hardware business for years, despite its acquisition a few years ago of StorageTek. However, that has been changing in the last couple of years as Sun has become a leader in combining its server and storage technologies into hybrid products.

Storage is one of the fastest-growing parts of the hardware business, and continued development of Sun's storage line by Oracle would give it a fast-growing storage line based on homegrown technology.

Sun in November introduced its new Storage 7000 Unified Storage Systems, also known as Amber Road. Amber Road, which is a series of hybrid server/storage devices, pools all hard drives and solid state drives in a new type of RAID configuration that allows quick addition of new drives and fast RAID rebuilds.

Channel sources say that it has become a fast-growing product for customers.

Sun also has taken the lead in solid state disk, or SSD, technology, melding it to its Open Storage initiative, introduced in June, which calls for the increased use of industry-standard components to enable customers to be able to quickly expand storage capacity at a low cost.

Sun said earlier this year that it plans to make SSD and flash memory technology the heart of its storage and server initiatives going forward, putting it ahead of all the top storage vendors in this key technology.

However, Oracle would run the risk of alienating some of its key storage partners, including EMC, HP, and Hitachi Data Systems, if it were to keep and continue developing the storage business.

Oracle also would get a strong workstation line that competes directly with that of HP, IBM and other vendors, as well as a thin client line that fits well with the expected move by the industry to start replacing traditional desktop PCs with virtual PCs to cut costs and increase security.

Sun also would provide the line of high-performance SPARC processors that have been developed in cooperation with Fujitsu.

Oracle probably could sell its stake in the SPARC line to Fujitsu, but decisions about the rest of the hardware line might not be as simple.

About the time news leaked about IBM's interest in acquiring Sun, rumors also abounded about a combined Oracle/HP acquisition of Sun.

Given that possibility, Oracle already may have lined up a deal to sell the Sun hardware line to HP, producing a very close relationship instead of an adversarial relationship between the two tech giants.

Oracle also could sell the hardware business to other vendors, including Dell, which might be interested in moving deeper into the enterprise.

Another possible buyer is Cisco. Cisco recently introduced its Unified Computing System, which aims to merge compute, storage and networking technologies into a single converged platform.

UCS is Cisco's first foray into the server business, and is centered on a blade architecture that has not been fully disclosed. By buying Sun's hardware business from Oracle, Cisco would gain instant credibility, as well as an instant channel, in the service and storage market, as well as a technology and installed base on which to launch its UCS.