Oracle's Sun day creates new world for enterprise

Oracle's acquisition of Sun raises many questions. The most pressing is: what happens to old partners?

Oracle's agreement to buy Sun for $7.4bn is largely unexpected and entirely game-changing. Almost every aspect of the deal creates debate: what will happen to Sun's dedication to open source? How about its work in networking, and setting standards? Will MySQL thrive or die?

Taking things at face value, Oracle's reasons for buying Sun are clear and logical. Post-acquisition, Oracle will be able to provide everything for the enterprise database from one place: storage and processing hardware; OS, middleware and apps; right through to the Java stack on the mobile phone at the edge of enterprise.

It's a popular model, for vendors. Get it right, as Apple does for consumers, and you can survive the fiercest market and the most implacable competition. Get it wrong, as Microsoft does for consumers, and you shackle yourself to a model that will keep you forever second best.

Oracle has every chance of getting it right, although like Apple and Microsoft it is likely to give lip service to 'open' but be far keener on 'proprietary'. Even more than before, customers must check that the emergency exit aisles are clear before taking off on that particular plane.

However, there are already people running for the parachutes. Until now, the job of providing a one-stop shop for Oracle has been the gainful employment of the company's hardware partners, such as Dell and HP, who have been delighted to provide that single point of contact and guarantee of integration.

No more. Oracle's statement says: "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". That's a clear statement of intent — the company wants all of that market, and it doesn't mind who it upsets in getting it.

The company has made its play. What happens next depends on how its competitors organise themselves. Nobody's relationship to Oracle will be unchanged. Implacable foes such as Microsoft, prickly partners like IBM, old bosom buddies such as Dell: everyone's in a new world, and new alliances are needed.