Is Oracle Beating the Linux Pants Off of IBM?

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2004-07-31

Is Oracle Beating the Linux Pants Off of IBM?

The Oracle-IBM feud over Linux will ratchet a notch higher at LinuxWorld next week, what with the lethal anti-IBM weaponry Mike Rocha will be packing.

When the Oracle executive vice president takes the stage for his keynote in San Francisco, hell point to Oracles whopping 361 percent Linux RDBMS market growth in 2003, according to numbers released by Gartner Inc. in June.

Click here for more details on RDBMS market growth in 2003.

That compares with total market growth of 158 percent, and it dwarfs IBMs total market-share growth of 28 percent. At this point, Oracle owns 69 percent of the market for relational databases on Linux, compared with IBMs 29 percent share.

Those numbers are impressive, but what do they mean to the future of enterprise databases on Linux?

Not much. Gartner analyst Colleen Graham pointed out that Oracles 361 percent year-to-year growth is based on a "tiny" revenue pool of $45 million. "Its just the nature of the numbers that when youve got small numbers like that, any growth looks exaggerated," said Graham, in Tucson, Ariz.

While Linux is indeed a growth market for Oracle, those growth numbers wont look anything like that 361 percent figure next year, Graham said. "It will look more like 100 percent growth," she said. "Theyre at a $200 million base. As they get bigger, [market growth numbers] get smaller and smaller and smaller."

Why are Oracle and IBM so hot for the Linux market? The fact that Linux cuts the Microsoft cord is of course paramount. But analysts say that for Oracle in particular, the lower TCO (total cost of ownership) offered by Linux is a crucial part of its current message.

"Oracle is perceived as being the high-cost database vendor," Graham said. "[Theyre] presenting a TCO picture that says, Yes, the Oracle database is expensive, but you can put it on low-cost hardware, and TCO is so much lower, why wouldnt you want to do this?

"Theyre looking at the bigger picture, saying, Hardware and software, were a very competitively priced solution when you look at it that way," she said.

Dont count IBM out, though, analysts say. The database/Linux market is so small, so new and so cutting-edge, anything could happen. "IBMs Linux message [has been] a little unfocused," Graham said.

"They didnt really have the references in line. They kind of got caught a little flat-footed on this. But Im certainly not counting them out. The fact that Oracle has 70 percent and IBM has less than 30 percent, this market is so small, I dont take that to mean this is Oracles market altogether."

Next page: Oracles RAC is a major selling point for running Oracle on Linux.

Oracles RAC

In the eyes of many, Oracles RAC (Real Applications Cluster) technology can be credited for the companys success in dominating the RDBMS/Linux market to date. "IBM isnt as focused in the database space as Oracle has been, and RAC is the differentiator," said Charlie Garry, senior program director for database research at The META Group Inc., in Simsbury, Conn.

"If youre going to go to something thats less scalable, potentially less reliable because its the unknown, [like Linux], RAC does provide people with a better feeling theyll get more reliability. And if they need to scale, they can add nodes. Thats something none of the other guys can do right now who are running on Linux."

CA will let loose the code for its Ingres relational database at LinuxWorld. Read more here.

Outside of RAC, what will matter even more to pushing enterprise use of Linux to run beneath databases will be widespread adoption of the Linux 2.6 kernel.

Up until 2.6, Linux kernel versions have been somewhat unwelcoming to enterprise databases mostly due to issues such as thread management and I/O efficiency, according to Carl Olofson, an analyst with IDC, in Framingham, Mass.

Up until the past few years, heavy-duty database use on Linux has been pretty unusual," he said. "Youre probably seeing more of it now. … Our recent studies have shown theres serious use of Oracle databases on Red Hat Linux."

Olofson explained that the growth of such "serious" database use can be seen in the increasing number of instances of real transactional databases—that is, databases of normal size and complexity, as opposed to simple, read-only databases that people might put on server farms so they can provide easy lookup capabilities online for things such as product catalogs.

As Oracle will be quick to point out next week, the 2.6 version of the kernel will benefit from contributions that have trickled down from Oracles and IBMs kernel teams. Such improvements include improved I/O throughput, memory utilization, I/O and SMP scalability, reliability and manageability.

"A lot of stuff coming is stuff Oracle and IBM themselves have contributed back, initially to Red Hat [Inc.], but its made its way into the distribution, the 2.6 kernel," Garry said. "That stuff makes it easier for databases to run."

And as databases get easier to run on Linux, and as the RDBMS/Linux market grows ever more serious a contender for overall RDBMS spending, so too will the battle for dominance grow more heated among the database kings.

Check out eWEEK.coms Database Center at for the latest database news, reviews and analysis.

Be sure to add our database news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page

Rocket Fuel