Untold technology carries MPE toward 2023
Last Half Looks: News beats future guesses

Last Half Looks: Oracle's Sun-ny value flip

Welcome to the final half-year of HP's 3000 enterprises. Six months from now Hewlett-Packard will be out of the 3000 marketplace after 38 years of solution releases and support. Migration-bound companies might be away from the 3000 by next year, but some will not. Those still choosing alternative tech platforms should know the rules of value in the next world.

Oracle purchased Sun more than a year ago, but the dust from that acquisition is only settling now. Even if your target is neither Oracle (like manufacturer Ametek -- in 2023) or Sun (like Expeditors International, which moved by 2005), the business flip of Oracle might have a bearing on your open source alternative. MySQL, an open source database so popular and powerful it drives Facebook and Wikipedia, is now owned by Oracle.

And Sun-Oracle (Snorkle!) has an upside-down strategy to deliver software and support for Sun products. "In the Sun world, the [Solaris] operating system is freely downloadable from its website," said Steve Cooper, co-founder of independent support company Allegro Consultants. "But Solaris patches are only available when you have a maintenance contract." That latter wrinkle keeps a customer tied to the vendor's support, unless they learn to live without patches.

A patch-free environment is what 3000 users are facing, since this is the last half of any HP patches, even the remaining workaround code. But a migration to an environment that uses MySQL -- popular among open source migrators -- could land you in the same lifetime support corral.

At the moment, patches for MySQL -- named after its creator Michael Widenius's daughter My -- are as free as the database itself. MySQL AB, a Swedish for-profit corporation, sells support just like Red Hat offers distros and support for Linux. Oracle's history of tough contracts, however, indicates that the Sun paid-only patches could become a MySQL bug -- er, feature of relying on MySQL.

Cooper, whose Allegro Consultants has been entering the Sun Solaris support marketplace, said the Sun model "is the HP model on its head. Now Oracle has come out and said you can download [Solaris] for free, but you can only use it for 30 days. After that you're in license violation unless you register it -- which means you must have a maintenance contract with them."

It gets better (or worse, if Sun runs your enterprise). Sun only has one support contract level left. No next-day, or 9-5 Business Day. "It's Premium, 24x7 support," Cooper says, "and they won't sell you that contract unless you sign an agreement saying that every Sun box that's supportable in your enterprise is under [Sun-Oracle] maintenance." If any system is on independent support, Snorkle won't sell the customer any new Solaris licenses.

Oracle has inserted clauses into contracts that forbid customers from discussing relative performance of the database. Now the company has keyed on the resilient value in a platform: support and maintenance fees. Considering how successful Oracle has been during a time of contraction in computers, it's amazing that HP didn't think of this as an endgame for its 3000 business. Amazing, and fortunate.

But Oracle has nothing else to sell, hardware-wise. HP's got HP-UX, got Linux and Windows servers. All of which, by the way, support MySQL. The database has a hearty alternative in PostgreSQL for open source. Now it's getting an alternative for support, too -- maybe just in time to avoid that Sun-ny vendor-only support edict for MySQL.

This week SkySQL is opening up support operations for MySQL customers. This is a brand-new venture that's run by former MySQL employees. If MySQL is on the horizon in your open source Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP (LAMP) plans, looking for independent support might be a good idea.

But that's been a good idea for a long while for the 3000 site, migrating or homesteading, too. Your migration solution would be more durable with independent support, which is unlikely to try to corral your other servers' support.