Oracle executive: Linux is not a homemade television

Oracle Vice President Dave Dargo told the Linux on Wall Street Conference that Linux must be treated as an enterprise-class product, and not a tinker toy.

NEW YORK -- Oracle Linux executive Dave Dargo told attendees of the Linux on Wall Street Conference on Monday that

IT needs to start treating Linux as an enterprise product.

"We need to stop looking at Linux as a starting point -- as a Heathkit, a box of bits," said Dargo, vice president of Oracle's Linux Program Office.

Dargo recalled the mail-order, build-your-own television company from his childhood as an analogy for the state of Linux prior to a few years ago.

"This box of parts would show up -- resistors and transistors and things -- and you'd get your soldering iron out; you'd take over the kitchen table for about six months and you'd build your own television."

Dargo said you might see a neighbor's Heathkit TV sitting on its top with its legs straight up in the air because "the picture was upside down and that was the only way they could really see the TV."

"It wasn't the picture you were interested in; it was building the TV," Dargo said. "That's really where Linux was a couple of years ago. You ordered a box of parts. It was a starting point. It wasn't an enterprise piece of software. You were expected to go out there and find things. You'd see people's IT systems with the legs up in the air because the picture's upside down... the Heathkit approach to Linux."

About two years ago, Dargo said, customers started asking whether Linux was ready for the enterprise. Dargo said customers were using Linux in mission-critical, but not heavily loaded, areas. Around the same time, Dargo was charged with a project at Oracle managing a performance-engineering team running some eight-node cluster benchmarks on Linux/Intel using Oracle's Real Application cluster product.

"I was also charged with making sure that the numbers we produced out of these benchmarks were better than the Oracle on Windows numbers on the same hardware," Dargo said. The engineers "started seeing a number of things that were disconcerting," such as about half the performance that was resulting from Windows on Intel.

"The other thing is we weren't seeing the stability we needed," Dargo said.

The engineering team began utilizing support options such as mailing lists.

"I remember one particular day that was the turning point," Dargo said. "One of the engineers came into the office and said, 'I've just improved the performance of our benchmark on Linux by 30%.' " The engineer had found a rewritten version of the IO driver on a University of New Hampshire site, downloaded the IO driver, installed it and recompiled the kernel.

At that point, Dargo said, "Great. Now what are our customers going to do?" He sought a more viable model for improving the benchmark and enabling Linux in the enterprise.

Dargo went on to explain how Oracle helped enable Linux for the enterprise by identifying critical features and facilities that Linux was missing.

To improve Linux, Oracle's Linux kernel development team is doing kernel development work across a number of platforms, Dargo said. "We're making significant contributions to the Linux kernel, specifically designed to enable it for the enterprise." He said Oracle had coordinated development efforts with Red Hat and the UnitedLinux consortium. Oracle is also developing its cluster file system in Linux.

Dargo said one of the main reasons customers called Oracle for support was to find out whether an operating system has been certified. Oracle has a pre-production certification program that tests programs as a part of the Red Hat/UnitedLinux development process.

Oracle is also offering global Linux support through about 6,000 support engineers and its Unbreakable Linux program, which provides code fixes and other support for enterprise level Red Hat Advanced Server and United Linux 1.0 distributions, Dargo said.

Dargo also pointed out that many businesses are concerned with total cost of ownership (TCO) studies and the varying -- even contradictory -- results those studies provide. "All those studies are true," said Dargo.

He said the TCO results varied because there are two components to Linux TCO: the initial acquisition cost, which Dargo cited as being potentially one sixth to one tenth the cost of proprietary systems, and the ongoing operational cost, which depends on the way a business manages its Linux systems.

"Those customers that were taking their existing operational model from Unix/RISC and simply applying it to Linux/Intel as if Linux/Intel was just another Unix/RISC environment in their system topology would typically see no savings because they were just adding another platform to manage the same way they were managing everything else." Dargo said, adding that a Linux/Intel environment could be managed as a "single system image," involving fewer servers and fewer people.

Dargo said that Oracle is running all its middle-tier systems on Linux/Intel today.

Dargo said businesses need to apply enterprise-class processes to our enterprise-class systems, treating Linux as any other enterprise-class system. "I have a very strong personal belief that this next year we're going to see transitions to Linux. My expectation is we're going to see a lot of companies over this next year move to Linux being part of the standard procurement process where it's easier to buy a Linux system than non-Linux."


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