Canonical and IBM, as expected, have expanded their relationship. The latest move involves a virtual appliance, comprising IBM's DB2 Express-C software running on the Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud. At first glance the Canonical-IBM relationship is a nice win for Ubuntu. But perhaps there's a deeper story angle here... involving Canonical's continued pursuit of Oracle on Ubuntu. Here's the speculation.

IBM's DB2 has a solid reputation in the database market. DB2 gained fame on IBM mainframes before carving out a niche for itself on Unix, Linux and Windows servers. But ultimately, DB2 trails Oracle and Microsoft's SQL Server in the Linux and Windows server markets, respectively.

Back in 2007, Gartner said, "Each of the major three vendors continue to dominate their particular platform; Oracle on Unix and Linux, Microsoft on Windows, and IBM on the zSeries." I know that data is getting old, but I suspect little has changed -- except for the rise of MySQL in certain segments.

Why Oracle May Care

The big question: Can DB2 really give Canonical and Ubuntu a lift? The answer is a two-part yes.
  • First, it's safe to expect IBM's sales team to mention the DB2-Ubuntu appliance to customers investigating cloud options. Will that trigger new revenue for Canonical? The jury is still out.
  • Second, if the DB2-Ubuntu appliance secures some significant customer wins, the news could catch Oracle's attention.
As you'll recall Oracle's database and application teams don't yet support Ubuntu -- though Oracle's Sun business has done some work with Canonical and Ubuntu in the past. During media phone briefings in 2009, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth said he hopes Oracle will come around to Ubuntu.

But Shuttleworth made it clear Canonical was casting a wider net and pursuing multiple ISVs, not just Oracle. And Oracle certainly has its hands full supporting Solaris, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Novell SUSE Linux, Windows Server, and Oracle's own Unbreakable Linux (among others).

The Next Phone Call...

If Canonical really wants to capture Oracle's attention, partnering with the IBM DB2 team was a good first step. Next up, Canonical should dial SAP and its recently acquired Sybase database division.

I concede: The blog above is filled with speculation. But the IBM-Canonical relationship is real. I'm curious to see how it plays out and whether it brings more ISVs to Ubuntu's table.