Oracle’s Big Linux Bet: Not Just For Customers

For Oracle customers, the hot new platform is Linux. And Larry Ellison is not about to get left behind.

At the LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco last August, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison told the crowd that Oracle is “moving very aggressively” to run its own operations on Linux.

The reason for the move is simple, according to Ellison: Linux is “cheaper, faster… and more reliable than any other environment around.”

In recent interviews, executives from the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based software maker confirmed that Oracle is well along the way to shifting much of its internal IT infrastructure to Linux.

By next June, the company plans to have all of its mid-tier systems running on Linux, according to company officials.

Already, nearly three-quarters of those computers — some 700 servers — are running on Linux.

The company has standardized on Red Hat’s Advanced Server for its internal Linux systems.

Classic Linux story

As is the case with many other companies, Linux first appeared at Oracle running small, utility-type applications, according to Wim Coekaerts, principle member of Oracle’s technical staff. “No one really knew about it,” he says. “It’s the classic story of Linux starting in file and print servers and slowly working it’s way up.”

When Oracle’s big customers started looking at Linux, however, “we ran some tests on it,” Coekaerts says. “We saw that Linux is not only fast, it’s also very stable, and it runs very well on Intel hardware. And it was an order of magnitude cheaper than RISC systems.”

Now, Linux servers run the middle-tier for many of Oracle’s key production systems, including the company’s email system, its ERP and CRM applications, as well as its internal file system.

Other Oracle internal systems are completely Linux-based, including the systems used for training customers, and the company Web site, More than 300 computers that Oracle sales reps use to demonstrate Oracle’s 11i application suite to customers are also running Linux.

Oracle has been touting the combination of Linux and its 9i Real Application Cluster (RAC) database option as a cheaper and more reliable way to run applications than on large SMP systems. Several of Oracle’s in-house systems are currently running on Linux and RAC, Coekaerts says. The firm’s internal file system, for example, runs on a five-node RAC Linux cluster.

Linux is also widely used by Oracle’s programmers. “A lot of our quality assurance testing at Oracle gets done on Linux systems,” says Coekaerts.

In addition, Oracle is running its outsourcing business on Linux. Customers who opt to have Oracle run their applications for them will be hosted on Linux servers in the software vendor’s new data center. That facility is located conveniently close to Dell Computer’s operations, which supplies Oracle with many of its Intel-based servers.

Oracle did not release ROI figures for its own applications running on Linux, but according to Coekaerts, internal comparisons showed that a Linux/Intel system was roughly one fifth the cost of a comparable RISC based system.

Oracle does gain an economic advantage because it can use its own software, which typically makes up the largest fraction of the cost of deploying Oracle on Linux.

Red Hat’s Advanced Server, which is required to run Oracle RAC on Linux, costs about $800 per server. Appropriate-sized Intel-based hardware may run anywhere from a few thousand dollars to ten thousand dollars or more. Oracle?s 9i database lists at $40,000 per CPU. The RAC option costs an additional $20,000 per CPU, although through February, Oracle is running a half-price promotion on that product, cutting the cost to $10,000 per CPU.

But economics, while important, isn’t the only reason Oracle is running Linux in-house.

“Running Oracle on Linux in-house lets us test it before it gets to the customer,” says Coekaerts. “And the fact that we’re running it shows our customers that we stand behind it.”