Oracle Wants To Be The Apple Of The Enterprise, But It Just Became IBM

Larry Ellison has always wanted to be the Steve Jobs of the enterprise. With this morning’s announcement that Oracle will buy Sun Microsystems for $7.4 billion, he took a big step towards making Oracle more of a soup-to-nuts provider of enterprise technology. With Sun, he will now be able to build and package together everything from chips and servers to operating systems, Java middleware, databases, and enterprise applications.

Here is the money quote from Ellison on the deal:

Oracle will be the only company that can engineer an integrated system – applications to disk – where all the pieces fit and work together so customers do not have to do it themselves. Our customers benefit as their systems integration costs go down while system performance, reliability and security go up

Like Apple, Oracle wants to take away complexity for its customers and bundle the entire IT stack neatly together so that it works without hassles and is optimized for Oracle’s software. With this deal, Ellison has come full circle from his early-1990s mantra of “best-of-breed” systems, which he abandoned long ago. Rather than look like Apple with its dedication to making the perfect product, Oracle just became IBM. It will use Sun’s existing server market share to push Oracle databases and software, and bundle it all with IT services. Sure, it will continue to support Dell and HP and even rival enterprise software, but the sales pitch will be around the bundled product. If that turns out to be a superior product at a lower price, then both Oracle and customers will win out. But to the extent that it takes away choice from IT buyers, it could be an even tougher sell than convincing them to give up their beloved Blackberries for an iPhone.

How different really is Oracle buying Sun than if IBM had bought it, other than the price? Sun’s powerful servers are a way to sell expensive software—always have been, always will be. A big motivation for the deal was to acquire Sun’s Solaris operating system and Java. As hardware margins keep getting squeezed, that software component becomes more and more important. At least with Oracle, Sun will stay in the Silicon Valley family, so to speak.

But what may be the most valuable part of the deal from Oracle’s perspective, although Ellison hardly mentioned it, is MySQL. Oracle now owns the open-source database Sun acquired last year for $1 billion. As MySQL grows in popularity, it keeps disrupting Oracle’s high-end database business from below. Now Oracle can at least try to disrupt itself, or kill MYSQL (which would be a bone-headed move).

What makes more sense is a two-pronged approach: On the high-end, sell highly optimized Sun servers running Solaris, Oracle databases, and Oracle enterprise apps. On the low-end, sell MySQL on Dell and HP servers running Linux.

Another unanswered question is what will happen to Sun’s cloud computing efforts, given Ellison’s disdain for the term. Watch him change his tune on that one as well.