Magazine article Online

A Bitter Cup of Java: The Oracle-Google Percolation

Magazine article Online

A Bitter Cup of Java: The Oracle-Google Percolation

Article excerpt

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Java means one thing at Starbucks and another at online and content companies. A tasty mocha latte from Starbucks kick-starts your day. A bitter cup of Java in the Oracle-Google legal matter may trigger indigestion for publishers, information professionals, and their IT departments alike.

Oracle provides the data management system a wide variety of companies, including those in the information industry. To grow, Oracle has acquired companies. TripleHop, PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems, and now Sun Microsystems are part of Larry Ellison's $30-billion empire. When Oracle purchased ailing Sun Microsystems in early 2009 for $7.4 billion, the logic of the deal was fuzzy. Why would a database-centric company want Sun's proprietary hardware and its open source software heritage?

The answer is only now becoming clear. Oracle is selling Sun hardware as purpose-built, high-speed database servers. The benefits of the Oracle Sun hardware underscore weaknesses in commodity hardware and software solutions. Oracle emphasizes stability, security, performance, and support. When a company embraces commodity or low-cost servers, service can be a headache without an excellent support program. Open source software poses other risks, including the sometimes erratic nature of upgrades and potential dependence on a community of unpaid volunteers to fix bugs.

CLOUDS IN YOUR COFFEE

Not surprisingly, the competitive pressure on Oracle and other vendors of proprietary information management solutions is increasing. The commoditization of hardware is making cloud solutions economically attractive. Both Amazon and Rackspace offer industrial-strength number crunching and storage at bargain basement prices. Amazon, for example, recently announced a free cloud service called Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), which can be combined with its existing Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) that provides cloud storage. Its EC2 Free Usage Tier gives new customers free usage for the first year. This includes 750 hours of EC2 running Linux/Unix Micro instance, 750 hours of Elastic Load Balancing, 10 gigabytes of Amazon Elastic Block Storage, and 15 gigabytes of bandwidth, with other pricing options available (http://aws.amazon.com/ec2).

Open source software represents another threat to Oracle. Its core technology enables two-thirds of the Fortune 500 and many well-known publishing and information companies to manage large amounts of data. However, the license fees can be onerous. Support costs often hit 15% to 20% of the annual license fees. The Oracle system, like IBM's DB2 and Microsoft's SQL Server, is sufficiently complex to require dedicated engineers to manage the data management system. These certified professionals resist change because considerable time and effort have been invested to master what is a very complex enterprise software system.

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But in the present economic environment, chief financial officers need to, at a minimum, hold down costs for information technology. The appeal of open source software such as Linux (operating system), Lucene/Solr (search), and Hadoop (distributed data management), among others, is that the software is available without charge via a download. For organizations wanting support, companies such as Red Hat, Lucid Imagination, and Cloudera, plus troops of other commercial companies and consultants, are within easy reach.

Adding to Oracle's challenges in open source is Google. Android is magnetizing developers, mobile device manufacturers, and telecommunication companies, pulling them to Google. Android depends in part on technology based on Java, a programming language developed at Sun Microsystems in the 1990s. Today, Java is used widely throughout the consumer and enterprise software ecosystem as a way to "write once, run anywhere." The catchphrase simplifies what is a complicated programming method. …

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