Where does Sun fit in Oracle's $35bn+ spending spree?

Oracle has secured the future of Java through its $7.4bn...

Oracle has secured the future of Java through its $7.4bn acquisition of Sun, but the future of the Sun hardware business remains unclear.

Ronan Miles, chairman of the UK Oracle User Group, says the deal has safeguarded Java as an open source tool.

Writing today on ComputerWeekly.com, he says, "Oracle and IBM are the premier Java suppliers, and the might of IBM (and its customers and developers) in the market will force Oracle to keep Java open, while Oracle's penchant for control and commercial success will keep Java vibrant, safe and singular.

"While Oracle would probably have had few qualms about Sun continuing to drive Java had the company remained financially healthy, it would have been a bigger risk for Oracle to allow Java to go to a company less committed to open systems. Considering this, the acquisition of Sun becomes a given."

Java: a cross-platform system

Java is widely supported by the IT industry as a cross-platform system for applications, ranging from mobile phones and set-top boxes to enterprise application servers. Some of the biggest names in the industry, including Oracle's rival IBM, run large Java businesses.

Oracle could try to disrupt or slow down the Java Community Process, which that Sun has used to bolster Java's reach, to drive its own agenda, but this is an unlikely scenario, according to Bola Rotibi, principal analyst at MWD Advisors. "Oracle is likely to continue to participate in the Java Community Process. It cannot afford to alienate Java developers."

The main loser is arguably Sun's hardware arm. Phil Dawson, vice-president of research at Gartner, says that Oracle is unlikely to abandon the two million users of Solaris on the x86 (Intel and AMD) PC server platform. But he questions the viability of Sun's proprietary Risc processor architectures. I think Oracle may look at jeopardising the high-end Sun UltraSparc family and migrate users from its T-series of servers to the x86 platform."

However, Dawson believes Oracle may be able to make the most of Sun's StorageTek storage division for database archiving.

Four suppliers to choose from

David Mitchell, senior vice president of IT research at advisory and consulting firm Ovum, warns that the acquisition will lead to less choice for IT departments.

He says, "Historically, it may have been prudent for CIOs to spread their spending across multiple suppliers, using competition between suppliers to keep prices keen - albeit recognising that supplier consolidation brought benefits such as a reduction in supplier management costs. We are now entering a market context where the "big four" will equate to IBM, HP, Microsoft and Oracle."

These suppliers will, between them, define a significant proportion of the IT market landscape. This means that CIOs would be wise to consider negotiating enterprise licensing agreements. Mitchel says CIOs should at least revisit procurement strategies and policies to ensure they reflect the current and future supplier landscape, which will see further consolidation.

Businesses that use products from both companies include Boeing, eBay, Daimler, American Express, Shell and BP. Both Oracle and Sun software are used in the UK's NHS National Programme for IT.

During the next few weeks, Oracle will need to lay out its long-term plans for Sun. Java's future looks secure. The future of Sun's hardware business is less certain.

Oracle's strategic acquisitions

Oracle has a track record of large acquisitions. Over the past four years, Oracle has spent over $35bn on strategic acquisitions, including Peoplesoft, Siebel, Hyperion and BEA.

"No other company has shown an ability to merge and integrate at the massive scale and complexity that Oracle has. Its acquisition spree that began 10 years ago is unprecedented in its scope and level of success. We have no reason to suspect that the way it handles Sun will be any different," says Dana Gardner, president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, on the Seeking Alpha blogging site.

Oracle's acquisition trail 
 January 2005: Peoplesoft, $10.3bn
 January 2006: Siebel, $5.6bn
 March 2007: Hyperion, $3.3bn
 January 2008: BEA, $8.5bn

 April 2009: Sun Microsystems, $7.4bn

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