Oracle, the open source company?

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The suggestion that Oracle is an open source or even pro open source company would be seen by many as an oxymoron. Yet within the technology parts of the company outside of database, that is precisely what is happening.

We have seen movements in this direction over the last couple of years with things like JET (JavaScript Extension Toolkit) and Hudson (CI tool) but things have been really changing.

Earlier this year we saw the announcements of Oracle handing control of Java Enterprise Edition (JEE) to the Eclipse Foundation (see here). The suggestions that Java’s change of management as well have been interpreted as Oracle’s change of heart and potentially moving away from the support of a lot of the Development community. But OpenWorld 2017 clearly pointed to something bigger.

All Change?

However, events over the last 6 months and particularly some of the announcements at OpenWorld 2017 really tell a very different story. For example a number of new Cloud Services have been launched that are built upon significant open source technologies including managed instances of Kafka (Event Hub) and there are suggestions  Cassandra Database will be available among others. Then there are services that wrap significant open source capabilities such as the AI Platform Cloud Service (allowing you to elect to use any combination of open source engines such as Tensorflow and  Caffe).

Then there is Oracle’s announcement regarding its Java Functions / Serverless ( offering  which can be run as workload on the new Container Native Application Development Platform (CNADP) soon to be launched. CNADP is built on Docker and Kubernetes and provides tooling for managing Docker, Kubernetes and includes the Continuous Integration capability acquired as part of Wercker. Fn itself supports multiple languages from Go to a wrapper on AWS Lambda but obviously Java is a key constituent. Oracle have committed to providing all the features in the open source code and not holding any features back into a paid service.  The way Oracle have approached this means that the capability supports an underlying approach that helps customers in so far as it can be used in any context from a developer laptop to on-premises in production, Oracle Cloud or just about any other Cloud. The Java realization  in fn looks impressive with the way it addresses some of the challenges that serverless programming brings, for example being highly thread efficient (hints of Node.js and Express – but easier).

We are also seeing that these new developer centric offerings embrace popular support frameworks such as Prometheus for monitoring and Grafana for visualisation. But at the same time allowing more mainstream offerings such as Management Cloud (particularly log analytics) and Oracle Enterprise Manager to be incorporated where a more ‘traditional’ approach to application monitoring and management is wanted. Not only that the functions team are working closely with the core JVM team to help optimise serverless execution such as memory loading.

Then consider the fact that Oracle have become a top tier member and contributor to CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation).  Whilst it would be easy to pitch this as Big Red trying to turn an open source initiative to their own means remember that IBM is there as well as Google- neither of whom are altruistic but don’t have the alpha male bully label associated with them.


Whilst, not open source, there is a real commitment to support the developer/coding community. This has reflected in the Oracle Code Events taking place around the world now. Historically the Java One conference has run at the same time as OpenWorld, but has been located away from core activities of OpenWorld. This had visibly changed this year with a lot the Java One sessions happening in Moscone West intermingled with OpenWorld sessions (and some of the tracks treated as Oracle Code events so entirely free). The community space has also been rebranded and aligned itself to be more developer centric. The technology advocacy groups have also been extended. Originally Oracle supported Java Champions and the Ace Community (Ace Associate, Ace & Ace Director).  Both groups where pretty much disconnected. Now a new programme called Developer Champions has been put into place which sites somewhere between the two older siblings recognizing the polyglot, infrastructure as code environment that we have now.

Going forward…

To say Oracle is an open source company, maybe stretching things; but as you can see Oracle’s engagement with open source has moved from smaller elements of Oracle’s offerings to present core pieces of its development based technologies. Where Oracle has surrendered an element of control – for example Java, it has done so to the Open Source community but at the same time  ensured it remains a key influencing stakeholder for example a Strategic Developer within Eclipse. I believe we will see this trend will continue for some years to come, as a biproduct of cloud, commoditization of technologies and adoption speed will continue to drive up the rate of innovation, diversification, and disruption in the industry. The only way to stand a chance of being a dominant player is to leverage what is openly available and apply your differentiator on top; influence direction by contributing solutions that others can leverage. In many respects this is precisely what RedHat have been doing from their inception. The alternative, do one thing incredibly well and be pushing the boundaries in one way or another with a product that just about everyone needs (or believe they need). Whilst pushing forward being very smart about your brand perception and portrayal. There aren’t many big players that have achieved this for decades – Intel is one of the few. Apple have had a good run now, but they haven’t always been at the top. Given what has happened to the database market Oracle would be in trouble if they stayed with that 1 thing. As a company they do tend to show a more cautious approach, and react once innovative ideas prove to have traction rather than be a major innovator. As for the last point, well Oracle doesn’t have the friendliest of reputations (deserved or otherwise).

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