Oracle Enterprise Linux coming to Sparc

The company expects to be able to port its Linux onto the Sparc T4, which is due next year

Oracle will port its Enterprise Linux distribution to Sun's Sparc processor, a move that could help it compete better against IBM and Hewlett-Packard in the high-end server business.

CEO Larry Ellison made the disclosure in response to a question about Oracle's Linux strategy at the company's Sparc systems launch last Thursday.

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"We think Sparc will become clearly the best chip for running Oracle software. At that point we'd be nuts not to move Oracle Enterprise Linux there. We're a ways away, but I think that's definitely going to happen," Ellison said.

It's likely to happen in "the T4, T5 timeframe," he said, referring to the next two versions of Sun's Sparc processor. Oracle just released the Sparc T3 in September, and the T4 isn't expected for a year or so.

Customers who buy Oracle's x86 servers today can run both Solaris and Oracle Enterprise Linux, but for Oracle's Sparc systems, Solaris is the only supported OS.

"Some customers have run Linux on Sparc, but it's mostly in the high-performance computing market, and it's not a supported environment," said IDC analyst Jean Bozman.

That puts Oracle at odds with IBM and HP, whose customers can run both Unix and Linux on those companies' high-end servers.

"You have both HP and IBM ... being able to offer their customers Linux and their proprietary Unix on the same hardware, and that gives them additional opportunities for customers running virtual environments," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight64.

IBM customers, for example, can take a single Power7 system and run Linux, AIX and IBM's System i software under a common hypervisor. "In the world of virtualized data centers, being able to run all your major OS environments on your major hardware platform gives end users a little bit more flexibility," Brookwood said.

Linux was Oracle's preferred OS before it acquired Sun. Ellison now calls Solaris "the leading OS on the planet," but he knows some customers want a choice. He wants that choice to be among Oracle products, however, not among different vendors.

"We want [customers] thinking, 'Should I go with Sparc or should I go with x86? Should I run it on Solaris or should I run it on Linux?' End of discussion," Ellison said. "We don't want them thinking, 'Should I move from Sparc to Power or Solaris to AIX.' We want to give them choice within our own family of products."

Ellison also introduced a new category of support, called Gold Standard Services, for customers who are willing to run their Oracle systems with exactly the configuration Oracle suggests.

Oracle will test each new software upgrade and big fix against the Gold configurations in its labs, Ellison said. That should allow it to guarantee higher levels of uptime for customers, he suggested.

The first "gold configurations" will be for the big integrated systems Oracle has announced recently -- the Exadata Database Machine, the Exalogic Elastic Cloud and the Sparc Supercluster.

It expects to include partner products too. "We're going to have IBM, Dell, and Cisco join in and create those Gold Standard configurations," Ellison said. He didn't give any pricing information, and Oracle didn't respond to a request for more details.

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