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Oracle Linux is no longer simply an RHEL clone


First, let’s make this clear. Oracle Unbreakable Linux was, is now and is for the foreseeable future going to be based on Red Hat’s Red Hat Enterprise Linux codebase. It is not, however, going to be simply RHEL’s twin in every way.

When Oracle first announced the release of Unbreakable Linux, many people saw it as a purely anti-Red Hat move. Larry Ellison, Oracle’s CEO, doesn’t like competition. What he likes is winning. If that means cutting Red Hat out of the deal for Oracle’s enterprise databases, not to mention getting some revenge for Red Hat stealing JBoss out of his grasp, then so be it.

Something funny has happened along the way. Unlike companies like CentOS, StartCom and White Box Enterprise Linux, which make no bones about simply taking RHEL’s code, taking out the Red Hat branding, recompiling it and selling it, Oracle is taking Unbreakable Linux down a different path.

Some of these additions were only to be expected. For example, Oracle is open-sourcing an OCI (Oracle Call Interface) database driver for PHP. According to Oracle, this brings “breakthrough scalability to PHP applications” and enhances its viability as a development environment for mission-critical applications. This driver supports Oracle Database 11g features such as connection pooling and fast application notification so a single x86 server can support, Oracle claims, tens of thousands of database connections at higher availability.

Prior to this, in June, Oracle also released improved PHP modules for Linux applications. These included new modules for Apache, MySQL and XML that were first made available in Oracle’s own Linux.

The goal here is clearly to not only provide better Oracle DBMS performance, but to gain access to the low-end Linux server market. For Oracle, which usually keeps its eye on the enterprise market, this is an interesting appeal to the SMB (small and midsize business) market, which has proven to be a stronghold for Linux servers.

What is more surprising, though, is that Oracle recently chose to make Yast (Yet Another Setup Tool) part of its distribution. Yast tries to make system administration easier by providing a single utility for configuring and maintaining Linux systems. It’s also tied at the hip to Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise distributions and OpenSUSE. Yast, a tool that tends to gain either fans or enemies, had never before been ported out of a SUSE system.

Still, while this gives system administrators an entirely different way of running a Linux server, it doesn’t fundamentally shift Oracle from its RHEL roots. Indeed, Oracle guarantees that not only will it track the Red Hat distribution closely to ensure compatibility for users, it will also support any ISV’s application that has been certified for use with RHEL3, RHEL4 and RHEL5. Oracle also doesn’t require that an ISV do anything special to test and certify its application against Unbreakable Linux. If a program certifies against RHEL, Oracle will support it on Unbreakable Linux.

As Oracle Vice President of Linux Engineering Wim Coekaerts said, “Oracle Enterprise Linux is compatible with RHEL and what we do is provide a great support service on top of either or both. We didn’t launch a Linux distribution business; we started a Linux support program. I think we have made that very clear many times.”

That is not to say, however, that Oracle doesn’t do its own work on Linux. For example, Coekaerts said Oracle is working with Intel on the LessWatts project to increase the efficiency of Linux systems and make it a greener operating system.

Still, when all is said and done, as Sergio Leunissen, a senior director for Oracle’s Linux Business Solutions, noted in a UK Unix group newsletter, Oracle hasn’t “talked about how our Linux is better than anyone else’s Linux. Oracle has not forked and has no desire to fork Red Hat Enterprise Linux and maintain its own version. We don’t differentiate on the distribution because we use source code provided by Red Hat to produce Oracle Enterprise Linux and errata. We don’t care whether you run Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Enterprise Linux from Oracle and we’ll support you in either case because the two are fully binary- and source-compatible. Instead, we focus on the nature and the quality of our support and the way we test Linux using real-world test cases and workloads.”

So, while Oracle may add features, such as Yast, that sit above the core operating system or improve PHP functionality, at its heart, Unbreakable Linux remains RHEL’s identical twin. On the surface, however, the two can no longer be mistaken for each other.

A version of this story was first published in Linux-Watch.

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