Oracle: Eating Its Own Open Source Food

Where in the world’s largest database vendor does open source fit? At the very heart, according to Wim Coekaerts, Director of Linux Engineering at database giant Oracle.

Coekaerts leads Oracle’s Linux and open source support, which includes OracleVM, the open source Xen-based virtualization hypervisor effort.

In an exhaustive interview with Coekaerts outlined where Oracle is going with its unbreakable Linux distribution, Linux kernel development and virtualization. (Oracle’s Linux support
stepped up
in 2006 when it announced its own support of Linux based on the binaries of Red Hat (NYSE: RHT), the number one Linux distributor.)

Coekaerts said the critical thing for Oracle is to actively contribute to the Linux and virtualization communities that serve as the base for Oracle’s open source offerings. That doesn’t mean he necessarily agrees with what other vendors, in particular Red Hat and XenSource are doing, even though the company works with both of their open source products. The ultimate impact of Oracle’s open source effort could well lead to a broader use of Linux and Xen or it could lead to greater fragmentation among the various open source groups supporting the two projects.

Although OracleVM’s product is based on Xen, the open source virtualization platform, Oracle is not an official member of the Xen Foundation, which tracks the open source virtualization project.

However, Coekaerts noted that his team talks to Xen project leader Ian Pratt on a weekly basis about what’s going on with its Xen development and use, such as a project called Huge Pages. Coekaerts explained that, in a typical operating system, the CPU runs applications in 4k memory chunks known as pages. Huge Pages expands the typical page file from 4k all the way up to 4MB.

“Oracle’s [database software] is tough to manage in 4k and the new CPUs from Intel and AMD let you look at 4mb chunks which is useful for Oracle,” Coekaerts noted. “Xen doesn’t support that today so you have to run 4k pages, which means there is more overhead. We want to make sure Xen is good for Oracle so we’re working on Huge Pages.”

Coekaerts noted that the majority of what Oracle does with Xen is stability bug fixes that are then contributed back to the mainline of Xen development. Though other vendors, including Citrix, Novell and Red Hat also ship Xen hypervisors, Oracle is trying to differentiate in at least one way.

“We’ve been trying to explain to customers is this: You’re buying OracleVM support and you’re getting a product from Oracle that solves your virtualization problem,” Coekaerts said. “If people just see Xen, then they ask what version you are running and it’s a discussion that goes nowhere. Ultimately they just want support.”

Plus, he added, combining OracleVM with Oracle’s Unbreakable Linux offering helps the company differentiate its product mix.

“If you have the whole stack you can make things work together,” Coekaerts claimed. “Most of the traditional Unix systems have virtualization today where it’s the same company that owns the operating system and the virtualization technology.”

Coekaerts added that Oracle can offer both virtualization and operating system to customers which is something that Red Hat and Novell can do, but Citrix and VMware can not.

Fundamentally though, Coekaerts argued that Oracle knows what it’s talking about because they too are consumers of open source technology.

“We use OracleVM ourselves. We are massive Linux users, we’re a customer,”
Coekaerts said. “We’re not just talking to other people and saying what’s your pain – we feel the pain. We have thousands of machines running Linux.
We’re trying to solve our problems which are similar to other organizations.”

“To be honest, Red Hat is a small company compared to us,” Coekaerts added.
“They don’t feel that pain they don’t even have thousands of servers.”

Next page: Oracle vs. Red Hat’s binaries

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Oracle’s version Versus Red Hat’s

In October of 2006, Oracle officially announced its Oracle Unbreakable Linux offering, which is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Ever since then, Oracle has maintained that it is maintaining binary file compatibility with Red Hat.

“Oracle does not compete on product differentiation we want to provide good quality support,” Coekaerts stated. “One of the reasons why EL is the same as RHEL is we didn’t want to introduce yet another version of Linux. It makes it easy for our ISVs to say this is the same, it’s not something new.”

Coekaerts added that Oracle contributes all bug fixes back to Red Hat.
Oracle does not work on new features for Enterprise Linux. As such Coekaerts argued that there is no reason for Red Hat to argue that Oracle’s Linux is different. In fact, arguing that it’s different is likely not a good thing for Red Hat, in Coekaerts view.

“What’s the biggest piece for a customer? The operating system helps you but it is not the core, it’s not the critical piece,” Coekaerts said. “We’ve been very successful. We want to grow the Linux market. We’re not trying to convert the existing Red Hat users to Oracle. We just want to make sure that Linux is the best platform to run Oracle.”

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