Oracle's Sun Java Strategy: Business as Usual

by: Dana Gardner

This guest post comes courtesy of Tony Baer’s OnStrategies blog. Tony is a senior analyst at Ovum.

In an otherwise pretty packed news day, we’d like to echo @mdl4’s sentiments about the respective importance of Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Oracle’s (NYSE:ORCL) announcements: “Oracle finalized its purchase of Sun. Best thing to happen to Sun (JAVA) since Java. Also: I don’t give a sh#t about the iPad. I said it.”

There’s little new in observing that on the platform side, Oracle’s acquisition of Sun is a means for turning the clock back to the days of turnkey systems in a post-appliance era. History truly has come full circle as Oracle in its original database incarnation was one of the prime forces that helped decouple software from hardware.

Fast forward to the present, and customers are tired of complexity and just want things that work. Actually, that idea was responsible for the emergence of specialized appliances over the past decade for performing tasks ranging from SSL encryption/decryption to XML processing, firewalls, email, or specialized web databases.

The implication here is that the concept is elevated to enterprise level; instead of a specialized appliance, it’s your core instance of Oracle databases, middleware, or applications. And even there, it’s but a logical step forward from Oracle’s past practice of certifying specific configurations of its database on Sun (Sun was, and now has become again, Oracle’s reference development platform).

That’s in essence the argument for Oracle to latch onto a processor architecture that is overmatched in investment by Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) for the x86 line. The argument could be raised than in an era of growing interest in cloud, as to whether Oracle is fighting the last war. That would be the case – except for the certainty that your data center has just as much chance of dying as your mainframe.

Question of second source

At the end of the day, it’s inevitably a question of second source. Dana Gardner opines that Oracle will replace Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) as the hedge to IBM. Gordon Haff contends that alternate platform sources are balkanizing as Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO)/EMC/VMware (NYSE:VMW) butts their virtualized x86 head into the picture and customers look to private clouds the way they once idealized grids.

The highlight for us was what happens to Sun’s Java portfolio, and as it turns out, the results are not far from what we anticipated last spring: Oracle’s products remain the flagship offerings. From looking at respective market shares, it would be pretty crazy for Oracle to have done otherwise.

The general theme was that – yes – Sun’s portfolio will remain the “reference” technologies for the JCP standards, but that these are really only toys that developers should play with. When they get serious, they’re going to keep using WebLogic, not Glassfish. Ditto for:

• Java software development. You can play around with NetBeans, which Oracle’s middleware chief Thomas Kurian characterized as a “lightweight development environment,” but again, if you really want to develop enterprise-ready apps for the Oracle platform, you will still use JDeveloper, which of course is written for Oracle’s umbrella ADF framework that underlies its database, middleware, and applications offerings. That’s identical to Oracle’s existing posture with the old (mostly) BEA portfolio of Eclipse developer tools. Actually, the only thing that surprised us was that Oracle didn’t simply take NetBeans and set it free – as in donating it to Apache or some more obscure open source body.

• SOA, where Oracle’s SOA Suite remains front and center while Sun’s offerings go on maintenance.

We’re also not surprised as to the prominent role of JavaFX in Oracle’s RIA plans; it fills a vacuum created when Oracle tgerminated BEA’s former arrangement to bundle Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) Flash/Flex development tooling. In actuality, Oracle has become RIA agnosatic, as ADF could support any of the frameworks for client display, but JavaFX provides a technology that Oracle can call its own.

There were some interesting distinctions with identity management and access, where Sun inherited some formidable technologies that, believe it or not, originated with Netscape. Oracle Identity management will grab some provisioning technology from the Sun stack, but otherwise Oracle’s suite will remain the core attraction. But Sun’s identity and access management won’t be put out to pasture, as it will be promoted for midsized web installations.

There are much bigger pieces to Oracle’s announcements, but we’ll finish with what becomes of MySQL. In short, there’s nothing surprising to the announcement that MySQL will be maintained in a separate open source business unit; the EU would not have allowed otherwise. But we’ve never bought into the story that Oracle would kill MySQL. Both databases aim at different markets. Just about the only difference that Oracle’s ownership of MySQL makes – besides reuniting it under the same corporate umbrella as the InnoDB data store – is that, well, like yeah, MySQL won’t morph into an enterprise database. Then again, even if MySQL had remained independent, that arguably was never going to evolve to the same class of Oracle as the product would lose its believed simplicity.

The more relevant question for MySQL is whether Oracle will fork development to favor Solaris on SPARC. This being open source, there would be nothing stopping the community from taking the law into its own hands.