CA's Ingres sell-off met with scepticism

'Open-sourcing a database is a gracious way of killing a non-profitable database,' says a spokesman from a rival open source database, who sees CA's move as an admission of failure

Computer Associates on Monday announced that it had sold off the majority of its share in the Ingres open source database to a private equity firm.

Open source advocates said this indicates that CA had struggled to create a viable open source business, but analysts praised the move as a sound business decision.

The buyer of Ingres, Garnett & Helfrich Capital, has acquired a majority share in the database unit, which has been spun off into an independent corporate entity called Ingres Corporation. CA has kept a stake in the new business and said it will co-operate on product development, industry partnerships and marketing activities.

John Swainson, the president and chief executive of Computer Associates, said this move is part of its strategy to focus on its core businesses of security and systems management.

"This partnership with Garnett & Helfrich represents a step toward rationalizing CA's solutions portfolio and provides Ingres with the dedicated resources and focus to ensure its future success," said Swainson in a statement.

CA released Ingres under an open source licence in November 2004 and launched a contest with $1m (£600,000) in prizes to encourage developers to write software for the database. It announced the winners of the contest in May this year, although it only actually handed out $550,000 in total.

The sale of Ingres shows that CA struggled to make money out of its open source offering, according to a spokesman from open source database vendor MySQL.

"[CA] was not able to turn Ingres into a viable business because they obviously misjudged what "open source" meant — it is clearly more than offering your product free of charge and running million-dollar sweepstakes," said the MySQL spokesman.

Paul Beach, an administrator of the project around the open source database Firebird, agreed.

"It looks like CA's open-sourcing of Ingres was a failure," said Beach. "Open-sourcing a database is a gracious way of killing a non-profitable database, but a database that is open source doesn't necessarily generate any more revenue than a closed source database and hence as such isn't likely to be of much value to CA."

Mark Taylor, the executive director of the Open Source Consortium, said he was not surprised at CA's decision as it "originally open-sourced Ingres as a PR move" at a time when the product was, he claimed, already failing.

"[Ingres'] mileage as a proprietary product was almost done — 5,000 users worldwide is a drop in the ocean compared to the number of users of PostgreSQL or MySQL. Yet again it is a classic example of the emerging open source model out-pacing proprietary models," said Taylor.

But RedMonk analyst James Governor said he saw CA's decision as a "natural move", as it is makes sense for the company to concentrate on its suite of systems management products. He said the move is likely to help CA sell its management products to database vendors, such as Oracle, IBM and Microsoft, as it will no longer be seen as a competitor.

"The fact is there are plenty of other databases out there to be managed — it can make more money out of that than Ingres," said Governor.

Gary Barnett, a research director at analyst firm Ovum, agreed that this move will help CA to "sort out its business".

"They have hundreds of different products, so they need to narrow things down a bit," said Barnett.