Oracle: two deals, but more than a year apart

Contact: Brenon Daly

Exactly a year ago today, Oracle announced its unexpected $7.4bn acquisition of Sun Microsystems. If it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, that’s because it really wasn’t. Final approval for the deal dragged on for nine full months, largely because of scrutiny by the European Commission of Oracle owning Sun’s open source database, MySQL. Eventually, Brussels agreed with our initial assessment that MySQL and Oracle rarely competed (MySQL was focused mostly on the low end of the market and on Web applications), so they cleared the transaction.

The purchase of Sun is a singular deal for Oracle. (It brings the company into the hardware game for the first time, for instance.) And it stands out even more when compared with Oracle’s pickup on Friday of Phase Forward, which is the only public company that Oracle has snagged since Sun.

For starters, the price of Phase Forward is about one-tenth the price of Sun. But more significantly, Sun was a broad, horizontal acquisition, while Phase Forward is a vertical market play. The target serves life sciences companies offering a subscription-based way to keep track of clinical trials. (It has more than 335 customers.) And perhaps most notably, parts of Sun’s technology (Sparc and Solaris, among others) will be integrated into many offerings from Oracle, which is following the strategy of other systems vendors. On the other hand, Phase Forward will be slotted into the narrowly defined Oracle Health Sciences unit.