Oracle Tries to Un-commoditize Linux

Oracle announces a "new" Linux kernel in attempt to sell more hardware

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The big news out of Oracle OpenWorld today was the announcement of Oracle's Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel for Oracle Linux, otherwise known as OUEKOL.

Too much? Try this one: snake oil.

I am not normally so harsh on new products, but this one is so ridiculously ill-conceived, Oracle's Linux division must think their customers are complete morons.

First, is this really even a new product? After all, Oracle came out with Oracle Unbreakable Linux in 2006. That product was an unashamed copy of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, a product with which Oracle once promoted as part of a partnership with Red Hat, until Oracle decided they could rake in more support revenue if their customers were paying for the OS part of the stack. At the time, Oracle claimed their distro was better overall then RHEL (it wasn't) and better optimized to run Oracle's database products (possibly).

Now, inexplicably, they are touting a new Unbreakable Kernel under the hood of their now-renamed Oracle Linux distro. This kernel gets, according to Oracle, "more than 75 percent performance gain demonstrated in OLTP performance tests over a Red Hat Compatible Kernel; 200 percent speedup of Infiniband messaging; and 137 percent faster solid state disk access."

Because of this, and other unproved stats, Oracle says "Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel is now the only Linux kernel Oracle recommends for use with Oracle software."

Of course it is.

If you are wondering why Oracle is taking this tack, other then the usual corporate desire to make bucketloads of money, here it is: the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel is supposedly "optimized for Oracle software and hardware."

That screeching sound that resembles a dying penguin you hear? That's the sound of Oracle trying to un-commoditize Linux.

More than once in their press release, Oracle emphasizes the speed and stability customers will get if they run the UEK on Oracle's hardware with Oracle's software. Which means this is essentially a kernel tuned to run better on Oracle's platforms. It must not be too deep of a change, since "third-party applications that run on RHEL 5 should run unchanged on Oracle Linux with the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel."

If Oracle's kernel were really different from Red Hat's kernel, then Oracle would find itself contending with a lot of application incompatibility issues for customers migrating from RHEL to Oracle Linux. Even Oracle isn't that dumb, because that kind of division would fragment an already sparse Linux application ecosystem.

I have no problems with Oracle shipping this product. The problem I have is with their continuing efforts to repaint their Linux products as anything other than RHEL. And now they have the audacity to market their version of Linux that runs optimally only on a certain platform: theirs.

That kind of thinking runs counter to Linux in several ways: the cross-platform capability of Linux is supposed to help users avoid platform lock-in. Commoditization is a strength of Linux, and now, with a few fancy words and unconfirmed stats, Oracle is hoping to lure customers in to a soup-to-nuts Oracle solution.

Again, if that's the option Oracle's customers want, then that's certainly their option. But Oracle should at least be honest with customers and not try to spin their way into a customer's wallet.

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