Threat and Alliance

When Silicon Strategies Marketing was busy making SuSE famous, we formed a number of interesting alliances. At the peak of our marketing frenzy we charged IBM, AMD, VMWare and others cash to participate in the SuSE event booth – to co-brand an co-present as shown in this picture from LinuxWorld 2003 (partner co-branding flying over our booth and us holding an audience after the show closed and while exhibit hall crews rolled-up the carpets).

Part of the strategy we put in play for SuSE was to communicate one step ahead of Red Hat. While the fedora-toped gang was still droning on about Linux being cheaper, we recruited major infrastructure vendors (hard and soft) to help us talk about integration and strategy planning. Since the market had decided to go with Linux, these talking points were what customers were thinking about – instant alignment.

We went out of our way to recruit Oracle. They were and are the big boss of the database business. After booting up a box, installing a DBMS is the next task on the average sys admin’s checklist. Having Oracle and IBM’s DB2 in the booth demonstrated that SuSE already had partners that buyers needed to build their future data center.

Which makes Red Hat’s recent sniping at Oracle amusing.

While SuSE, Oracle and IBM were aiming at enterprises, nobody was selling to the bottom of the market. MySQL, following the Open Source parade, slowly swallowed all DBMS action in the lower tiers. Yes, Oracle and IBM eventually released stripped down, limited access, largely unsupported versions of the mainline products. But by the time they reacted, the non-enterprise world had anointed MySQL the de facto SMB database. It came bundled on every release of SuSE, Red Hat, and whoever those other distros were.

The only people more annoyed by MySQL’s success than Oracle and IBM were the maintainers of Postgress (who figure into the story in a moment).

As the years rolled by and as Oracle acquired software companies faster than Bill Clinton acquires STDs, Oracle ran afoul of Red Hat in two ways: First, Larry Ellison brazenly (his only mode) went into competition with Red Hat, offering support services for Red Hat users with the added advantage of providing customers one throat to choke for technical support. Then he bought Sun, and by proxy bought MySQL. With MySQL an intrinsic part of the default LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack, this put too many variables in Oracle’s control.

Which is why Red Hat followed IBM and is investing in an Oracle killer.

EnterpriseDB is an extended Postgress DBMS. Aside from offering a number of enterprise-ready features not found in MySQL, it does one thing that might just keep Ellison up at night – it mimics Oracle databases. It provides the same programming interface as Oracle, and thus allows Oracle-ready applications (SAP, et al) to run without the much more pricy Oracle DBMS. In other words, EnterpriseDB wants Larry’s money.

Which is why Red Hat is giving money to EnterpriseDB.

Oracle tried to take Red Hat’s support revenues, and now Red Hat is trying to take Oracle’s license and support revenues (oh, and IBM is helping EnterpriseDB in the same way).

In technology markets, nobody can go it alone. All vendors need partners. But tech alliances are about as stable as my ex-wife, and with less fidelity. They exist on the maxim that as long as each partner is helping the other make money, then the relationship lasts. When one partner causes the other to lose, then the partnership is weakened or broken.

Or partners are swapped.

Marketing strategists decide with whom to partner. They choose the alliances based on creating a whole product that they can bring to market. When we led SuSE’s strategy, recruiting Oracle was essential in bringing a whole product to enterprise IT buyers. Red Hat eventually did the same, and will remain on Oracle’s official partner list, because they still co-create the current whole product. But Red Hat sees that in the long run Oracle does not want to be a partner, but a competitor. Oracle wants to own the stack. Since the DBMS is Oracle’s revenue bedrock, Red Hat is reciprocating by attacking that revenue source through a new partner.

Expect Larry to retaliate … or buy Red Hat.


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