Larry gives Linux an Oracle
By Tara Swords (February 2003)
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is piloting an initiative to move Linux into enterprises. He's also putting his money where his mouth is—and turning Oracle Corporation into one of Linux's most compelling case studies
Not only is Oracle CEO Larry Ellison unafraid to speak his mind, but he also refuses to waste time worrying about people who disagree with his opinions. No matter how often he flies in the face of conventional trends, Ellison's legendary leadership has turned his Oracle Corporation into an agile company that successfully operates on its creator's philosophy of aggressive innovation.
These days, even Ellison himself attends the occasional sales call because he knows that his presence at the table of a potential Oracle® customer is worth his own weight in solid gold. At these meetings and in highly publicized keynotes, Ellison has been aggressively promoting a technology that—in step with Ellison's innovative nature—has grown from an experimental platform a year ago to the cornerstone of thousands of mission-critical enterprise deployments: the Linux® OS.
What's the hold up?
Linux may be the new kid on the block, but Ellison doesn't suggest that enterprises invite Linux over to play out of sheer good will. Invite Linux to play because it can save you some serious cash. For nearly three years, Ellison has led Oracle in developing Linux-compatible software and powerful partnerships with companies such as Red Hat, the world's leading commercial distributor of the Linux operating system (OS). In fact, Oracle raced to introduce the first commercial database that could run on Linux. Ellison and crew have long touted the reliable moneysaving potential of Oracle on Linux—citing case studies, benchmark results, and plain economic common sense—but often in the face of strong skepticism.
Most enterprise customers will agree that an open source OS such as Linux can yield big up-front cost savings because it runs economical software on low-cost commodity platforms like standards-based Intel® servers. But ask most enterprise IT managers if they feel Linux can deliver enterprise-level performance, and they answer the question with a flurry of new questions: What about scalability? What if Linux isn't ready for the enterprise? And what if my Linux machines go down—when running some mission-critical application?
Ellison has an answer to those questions, and it is an answer that most IT decision makers probably have not heard: So what?
Strength in numbers
Ellison can brashly confront doubts about the preparedness of Linux because his company has designed shared-disk clustering software that makes Linux, as he boasts, "unbreakable." How? Oracle9iTM Real Application Clusters (RAC) groups together many computers and makes them work like one machine. The concept of clustering isn't groundbreaking, but Oracle is the first vendor to market a solution that allows a single application to run on multiple computers when it was designed to run on just one computer. That distinction is something to write home about.
The implication is that any company can run Linux on a cluster of inexpensive standards-based servers and make its applications operate faster and more affordably than before. The configuration also runs more reliably than before. After all, Ellison says, one or two—or even six—failed machines in an eight-node Linux cluster are no cause for alarm because the shared-disk cluster enables the remaining machines to operate without missing a beat.
The configuration is absolutely fault-tolerant, Ellison says, and it should quiet the IT execs who fuss and fret about Linux's maturity.
"This solution overcomes two big Linux objections," Ellison says. "People say that it can't do the heavy lifting. Maybe one Linux machine cannot handle the heavy lifting, but 12 or 16 can. People also say they can't afford failed systems like e-mail. But if the system is clustered, it won't fail. If a few machines go down in a 12-machine configuration—no big deal. The system is still fault-tolerant because the other machines still work."
What about the cost of all those extra machines? To prove a point, Oracle compared three configurations of equivalent processing power: one IBM® mainframe system, one UNIX® system, and one Linux-based system.
"For the hardware in the IBM mainframe scenario, you have to pay $14-$15 million. For the UNIX system, you'll pay around $4 million," Ellison says. "To get the same processing power on a Linux-based system, you'll pay about $400,000. These are equivalent configurations in terms of performance, but they're worlds apart in terms of price." In other words, a Linux cluster can be up to 97 percent cheaper than an equivalent configuration of IBM iron—not to put too fine of a point on the matter.
Ellison also advises naysayers to forget their worries about the ability of Linux to ward off hackers. With a customer list that has included government organizations such as the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Aviation Administration, Oracle understands the importance of building security into its products—not retrofitting security measures to products already on the market. In fact, when Oracle dared to call its software "unbreakable" in the fall of 2002, the company might as well have levelled a direct challenge to the best and brightest computer delinquents in the world: "Corporate conceit available for dismantling; apply within." But the hacking elite failed—miserably.
"We went from a couple of thousand attacks on our Web site per week to between 20,000 and 30,000 attacks per week," Ellison says. "Do you know how many times they succeeded in breaking into the Oracle database? Zero. And we don't care what platform you run it on. Oracle on Linux is just as impenetrable."
The Zen of IT
Ellison swears by Linux repeatedly, and he means it. For those who still disbelieve, consider the fact that Oracle has anteed up and is in the process of turning over many of its own mission-critical systems to the Linux OS. Oracle is moving some of its systems' middle-tier servers—many of which are DellTM PowerEdgeTM servers—to Linux. Those systems include accounting, customer relationship management, sales automation, marketing, human resources, payroll, and even the Oracle Web site.
Oracle's move to Linux is part of the company's Zen-like efforts to simplify IT life, both for its customers and inside its own walls. For example, customers once faced a daunting list of 150 Oracle application products; now Oracle offers just one—a single, hearty version that helps customers minimize the need for complicated software integration. Ellison calls it the "Japanese garden" approach to IT: The garden isn't complete until you've removed as much unnecessary complexity as possible.
Inside its own walls, Oracle has put forth an ongoing effort to move all corporate data into centralized databases—a simplification strategy that has been bolstered by the company's migration to Linux. Since beginning the process, Ellison says Oracle has seen quantifiable results that would thrill any budget-crunched enterprise.
"Our IT budget has dropped by about half since we started this process. But every year, our profit margins have gone up—even in the worst IT recession in history. The reason is that we've become more efficient," Ellison says. "Linux will help us maintain that competitive edge."
With a little help from its friends
Oracle now offers all of its key products—including Oracle9i Database, Oracle9i Application Server, Oracle9i Developer Suite, Oracle Collaboration Suite, and Oracle E-Business Suite—for the Linux platform. Together, Oracle, Dell, and Red Hat work to deliver those solutions in packages that address the growing demands of customers who need mission-critical infrastructures that lower total cost of ownership. The latest fruit of this partnership is the Red Hat® Linux Advanced Server—which comes factory installed from Dell along with Oracle9i Database and Oracle9i Real Application Clusters in a certified configuration.
Dell provides support for the hardware and operating system, while Oracle supports the software stack, including Red Hat Linux Advanced Server—assuaging enterprise customers' fears that a Linux adoption will leave them in the lurch without service or support. Customers around the globe can confidently purchase and run Oracle9i Database on Red Hat Linux Advanced Server on Dell servers because they know that if they run into a problem—even in countries where Red Hat does not have a presence—they can pick up the phone and call Oracle and Dell to access world class-support for Red Hat Linux Advanced Server.
"We have seen a significant increase in Linux interest from our corporate customers," says Michael Dell, CEO of Dell. "Many Fortune 500 companies are turning to Dell, Oracle, and Red Hat to take advantage of the dramatic price, performance, and support benefits we can provide through a comprehensive Linux-based solution for infrastructure computing."
Most of those benefits are unprecedented for enterprise Linux deployments, including:
- Security: The certified configurations come installed with Oracle9i Database or Oracle9i Real Application Clusters, the only database that provides concrete security assurance with 15 international security evaluations.
- Reliability: Oracle and Dell fully stress test this system by running extreme loads to ensure high availability in demanding environments.
- Faster time to implementation: Because the software and OS are pre-installed in the Dell factory, implementation is instant.
- Affordability: The Dell direct model ensures that retailers and suppliers do not mark up the price of a Dell-based system.
- Easy procurement: Customers can obtain quotes, configure systems, and complete orders online.
Now that Oracle has come out in clear support of Linux in the enterprise—with none other than the irrepressible Ellison as its biggest advocate—the company will continue to cozy up to open source ideals. In fact, Ellison announced to a pleasantly surprised crowd at LinuxWorld 2002 that Oracle has created a cluster file system for Linux—and made its source code available under the General Public License. Also, Oracle recently released the Oracle Collaboration Suite, available on Linux, which integrates nearly every type of modern business communication under the sun—e-mail, voice mail, fax, calendar, files, and work flow—with wireless and voice support for anytime, anywhere access.
As software vendors such as Oracle increase their Linux-compatible offerings, Ellison warned a crowd of loyal, long-time Linux devotees at LinuxWorld that their annual gathering to honour a once-underground technology would play host to more and more suits each year. And you can bet that not all will wear Armani.
"Linux is a spectacular new answer to some of the issues that are facing enterprise IT managers today—especially the challenge to deliver more performance while saving money in this tough economic environment," Ellison says. "After all, Linux has transformed our own business and we're promoting it because we think it's the cheapest, fastest, and most reliable system around."
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