Wither Unbreakable?

One would assume that Oracle 10g would install and run flawlessly on Unbreakable Linux. One would be wrong.

It’s well established that I think Oracle founder and CEO Larry Ellison resembles a classically-styled supervillain. Why, on occasion, I’ve even compared him to Lionel Luther from Smallville. In fact, Ellison’s resemblance to Luther is uncanny. It’s something about those Savile Row-tailored suits, the swarthy look, and the beard, combined with his self-styled image as a modern Samurai warlord — Ellison just fits the part of a Bond bad guy. You just know that his $16,000,000 Atherton CA, Japanese feudal estate, complete with tea gardens, Bonsai trees, and sakura blossoms also has sharks with frickin’ laser beams in the swimming pool.

But I think Larry is an easy target, and it’s easy to make fun of a larger than life personality. Oracle, however, is not scoring big points with Linux customers lately. It’s Unbreakable Linux offering is much better known as “That crappy CentOS clone.”

Yes, I know that Larry has been bragging that Unbreakable has “displaced” Red Hat Linux at Yahoo, and that Oracle is signing Unbreakable support contracts, some of which are “over half a million dollars” in size. Oh, I’m sure there have been a few token companies that have been taken along for the ride. But most of the enterprise customers I have spoken to that are firmly entrenched in Red Hat want nothing to do with Oracle’s “me too” Red Hat Enterprise Linux clone. They want the original. Coca-Cola, not Sam’s Cola from Wal-Mart.

I’ve said previously that it was a stupid idea for Oracle to bring another Linux distribution into the world for no good reason. The database giant didn’t practice planned parenthood like a reasonable software company should. The company just reproduced in a totally irresponsible manner, seeing Unbreakable as a way to make a quick buck, when they really should have been working with Red Hat to seamlessly integrate Oracle 10g and RHEL. A good example of smart partnering is the Novell and SWSoft alliance, which promises to be great for getting the way-cool Virtuozzo container virtualization technology out in the wild.

Integration and playing nice with other companies — what a concept!

Now, you’d think that by releasing its own Linux distribution and RHEL clone. Oracle would see to it that 10g installs on it easier than any other Linux distribution. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth: the setup and configuration of Oracle databases on Unbreakable Enterprise Linux is utterly painful. As on RHEL, it’s a multi-hour, manual task, requiring a lot of kernel and system parameter tweaks. The installer is a clunky, error-prone leviathan of a Java- based installation program that looks like it was quickly ported from Unix by a bunch of low-paid, offshore “developers.” And because Unbreakable is less rigorously tested than RHEL, it doesn’t make it any better a Oracle hosting platform. Frankly, CentOS, the distribution that Unbreakable rips off, is more robust, because it has a stronger open source community.

Now that Unbreakable is in the wild and Oracle is steadfast in supporting its product lifecyle, there are a number of ways that Oracle can ensure that it doesn’t become the bottom-shelf supermarket brand cola of Linux distributions. For starters, the distro needs some distinguishing characteristics that separate it from RHEL. Customers don’t just want a cheap clone of RHEL. If so, CentOS would be far more popular with enterprise IT shops.

Unbreakable must live up to its name, and it also has to be the very best Oracle hosting platform there is. You should be able to place an Unbreakable DVD into a box, or PXE kickstart Unbreakable over a network and, presto!, twenty minutes later, Oracle 10g is up and running. If that’s not viral marketing, I don’t know what the hell is. I can guarantee you if the next version of Unbreakable is able to do that, customers will line up in droves. And you won’t get a single crack about Larry from me ever again.

In addition to being a perfect Oracle hosting platform, the company needs to actually give back something to the community to be taken seriously. Right now, Oracle takes CentOS and re-spins it as Unbreakable Linux, which, according to the GPL, is their God-given right to do. However, instead of just being a schnorrer, Ellison can take some of the proceeds from selling his Kurosawa-style California mega-mansion and formally sponsor the CentOS project, a la Fedora, say to the tune of a million bucks per year plus hosting and donated hardware to certify CentOS as an Oracle platform. What will that get him? Well, lots of grateful software developers for one, and a bunch of folks that he can use as free labor, which he’ll never be able to supplant with enough in-house Linux developers.

Everybody wins.

But, as one of my very insightful, industry insider friends has told me, Oracle will never do it. It’s not in their nature and it makes too much sense.

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