Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mickos agrees

After posting my thoughts on the Oracle/Sun deal yesterday, it was interesting to see former MySQL CEO Marten Mickos's take on the deal: Why Oracle Won't Kill MySQL. Mickos's thoughts parallel my own: Oracle will use MySQL to fend off Microsoft in the low end and provide a way to capture developers and bring them into the Oracle fold.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Oracle Buys Sun

Well, well. After all the speculation that IBM was buying Sun, it looks like Oracle finally moved the transaction across the finish line.

Previously, it looked like the IBM/Sun deal fell apart over price and possibly strategic fit. Originally, in early April, the Wall St. Journal said the deal was going to be at $9.55. Later, IBM offered $9.40. The Sun board balked at this and IBM subsequently withdrew the offer.

With the latest news, it looks like Oracle agreed to a price of $9.50, cash, bringing the final price to about $7.4B.

Previously, I had said that I didn't get the IBM/Sun deal. With Oracle, the fit seems a lot better, but there are still some questions. The thoughts going through my head are:

  1. From a technology standpoint, the Oracle/Sun deal feels a lot more complimentary than with IBM/Sun. Oracle and Sun have always been strong partners, with Oracle's DB running well on Sun's hardware and software (SPARC/Solaris). Further, Oracle has built a lot of its applications on Java technology.
  2. With the purchase of Sun, Oracle now competes more directly with companies like IBM and HP. In the same way that you could buy DB2, running on AIX or Linux, running on IBM X- or P-Series hardware, you'll now be able to buy Oracle, running on Solaris or Linux, on Sun SPARC or x86. At the performance-oriented, high-end of the database market, this will be a big deal and will probably deliver great long-term performance gains. Oracle can now controls and can tune all levels of the stack.
  3. The only significant overlap between the companies is with the database (Oracle vs. MySQL) and the operating system (Oracle's Linux variant vs. Solaris).
  4. While some people fear for MySQL under Oracle's leadership, I'm not sure that they should automatically worry. The reality is, Oracle was going to lose a lot of database business to MySQL either way, and if not MySQL, it would have been PostgreSQL or even low-end commercial options like Microsoft SQL Server. IMO, it's far better to have MySQL under Oracle's control so that it can be better positioned as an on-ramp to the larger, more lucrative Oracle DB for high-end applications as well as a spoiler for Microsoft. Imagine, for instance, if Oracle embraced MySQL and created a set of tools that allowed developers to work seamlessly with either DB from an application point of view. MySQL could be used during development or at smaller, departmental scales, with minimal conversion to full Oracle licenses as the apps went into production and scaled up. In short, killing MySQL won't save Oracle from the other open source and low-end threats, so if it's smart, it will use MySQL to get developers on the Oracle bandwagon and then keep them there with seamless tools that work on the big DB.
  5. Bigger questions remain for software packages like Open Office. I'm sure that Oracle (and Larry Ellison) would take no greater pleasure than making the office-suite market a no-profit-zone for Microsoft. Currently, MS Office is one of Microsoft's biggest cash-cows, and so cutting into that revenue stream would help starve Microsoft dearly. That said, how much is Oracle willing to invest to do this? Clearly, Open Office is an orthogonal play to the mainline database business, with little tie-in visible at first look. Still, there might be some sort of connection that could be created if Oracle looks hard enough. This would take time, however, and it isn't clear whether Oracle would be willing to carry the development costs. That may mean that Open Office would be sold or spun out into separate entity that would have to find its own revenue stream, much as Netscape did with Mozilla. Killing it outright seems like a waste given that it still does provide competition for Microsoft; the main issue is simply the funding model to keep that going.
  6. Next, there is the question of Solaris vs. Linux. Oracle already has its own Linux variant, a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. My gut tells me that the answer here is "Yes." They'll keep both. Oracle can't afford to drop support for Linux, in the same way that Oracle still runs on HP-UX, AIX, and Solaris. I would expect that Solaris will get the bulk of the performance tuning enhancements, however, with Linux relegated to a back-seat role for those who want to run on commodity hardware and software stacks.
  7. Finally, the biggest question in my head is whether Oracle knows how to, or even wants to, manage a hardware business. Oracle is currently a very profitable software business. Getting into the hardware business will inevitably drag down that overall profitability. There are a couple of options here. They could spin off the hardware business, but that would presume that Oracle doesn't want the hardware business when it buys Sun. That feels like a stretch. Sun doesn't have enough interesting software assets for Oracle to purchase the company solely on that basis, I think; Sun is fundamentally a hardware company. Second, Oracle could focus the hardware business, cutting some of the expensive development. For instance, rather than pursuing continued high-end SPARC development, it could simply focus the Sun hardware divisions on x86-based products. That would cut a lot of development costs yet still keep the company with hardware products. The trade-off would be that Oracle would be limited to whatever performance it could eek out of standard hardware, which might not be where it wants to go. Processors like Niagra might be part of the interest for Oracle, to address high-end applications. Another alternative would be to go the other way and cut all the commodity hardware and only focus on the high-end, more profitable hardware. In the end, whatever the decision, the biggest question is whether Oracle can run a hardware business competently. The company is clearly professional but it has never demonstrated hardware savvy before. Will Sun's hardware engineers remain at Oracle, where hardware is secondary to software? There is a lot that could go wrong or be mismanaged, even with the greatest of intentions.

Am I right or wrong? Who knows. There is a lot of industry speculation today. We'll see as this plays out. The one thing that is clear is that the first half of 2009 has been an interesting time in the IT space. First, Cisco announces UCS and forces an industry-wide realignment, and now Oracle buys Sun and does the same thing. It's only April. By December, the world could be vastly different.

Terminated with Extreme Prejudice

Well, I had a snafu all last week. The anti-spam robots over at Google decided that this blog met their criteria as a spam blog and decided to disable it. After much clicking on various links over at Blogger to petition for a review, the gods decided that I was worthy and it seems I'm back online again.

After going through this whole experience, here is some feedback for Google/Blogger:

  1. First, let me applaud your efforts to go after spam blogs. Spam is the scourge of the Internet. At the scale at which Google/Blogger operates, the process of detecting spam blogs has to be automated. With any form of automation, some mistakes will sneak through, either false positives or false negatives. I understand that. So, my first thought at being flagged as a spam blog was, "Okay, no biggie. I'll just petition for a review and we'll get this taken care of." Unfortunately, you made the process unnecessarily painful and disruptive.
  2. My biggest beef with Google/Blogger is that the process for requesting a review is a bit of black magic. After the bots categorized my blog as spam, I was sent a single email saying that I had 20 days to request a review, otherwise my blog would be disabled. Naturally, I missed the email and didn't find out about the issue until I logged into Blogger to create a new post. Still, I was at the early part of the review phase before the blog had actually been disabled and there was a clear notice that it would be disabled if I didn't request a review, but missing that first email was a problem as it cut into the 20-day review period.
  3. After logging into Blogger and finding out about being flagged, I immediately requested a review. Again, "No biggie," I thought, "because they have plenty of time to do the review. They'll just pop open a browser, look at the blog, and it will be obvious that it's not spam."
  4. After requesting the review, I got absolutely no feedback from Google/Blogger that the review was happening or even that the request had been received. There was no communication whatsoever. When I logged into Blogger, it would say that a review had been requested on a particular date, but that was it.
  5. After 20 days or whatever, the blog was simply disabled. No warning. No additional emails either right before or after the disabling saying that the blog was about to be disabled or even that it had been disabled. No nothing. I found out that the blog had been disabled from a reader who sent me a message.
  6. Without any communication from Google/Blogger, I was left wondering what happened. Was the review completed, but rejected? Was the request to review ever received? Was there a bug in Google's request or review process? Was in in limbo?
  7. I immediately went online and started checking all the Google help links. There was no help there, other than to say to request a review if your blog got flagged as a spam blog, and one more link to be able to generate another review. There was no appeal procedure, no additional help. In particular, there was no way to reach a real human. The only option to me was to post into Blogger's support group and grouse about things there. From what I can tell, this is a popular past-time, because there were a lot of other people doing the same thing.
  8. What would have been more helpful is a steady stream of update email from Blogger after I requested a review. I would be nice, for instance, to get an email confirming the review request. Then, it would be nice to get a status email periodically (weekly?) saying when the review would be completed. I have no idea whether reviews are completed by humans, or just another bot. I have no idea how long the queue is. In fact, I have no idea whether a review actually took place for my blog during the 20-day grace period before the blog was disabled. If it did, it would have been nice to receive another email stating that the review was complete and the result, whether rejected, approved, or whatever.
  9. In short, COMMUNICATE. There is no substitute for letting people know what is happening, even if you can't give them good news. Also, make your review procedure as transparent as possible. Tell people what to expect ahead of time. Then deliver to that expectation in terms of communications, timeframes, etc.

My main conclusion from this whole thing is that Blogger is a risky deal for corporate blogs where uptime is critical. Bloggers might be better going with a non-Blogger solution, either paid hosted or locally installed (e.g. Wordpress). Google's procedures are designed to achieve a reasonable service level a high levels of scale, but to do that they deliberately deflect all inquiries for a real human (FAQs and forums for support) and rely on automated infrastructure (spam bots). When things have really gone wrong, that simply doesn't work. I walked away from this with a profound sense that my data exists on Blogger at Google's whim, and even if I haven't violated any terms of service, my data can be snuffed out at a moment's notice with little to no appeal possible.