OS execs split over fate of MySQL under Oracle's grip

 The fate of Sun's open source jewels -- especially MySQL -- has been heavily debated since Oracle announced its intentions to buy the Java giant earlier this week. Few expect the Redwood Shores, Calif.
Written by Paula Rooney, Contributor


The fate of Sun's open source jewels -- especially MySQL -- has been heavily debated since Oracle announced its intentions to buy the Java giant earlier this week. 

Few expect the Redwood Shores, Calif. database giant to mess with Java. It is a well established industry standard and recently open sourced programming engine. 

But when it comes to MySQL and Sun's other open source offerings, the jury is out. 

Despite Oracle's fiercely competitive nature, many leaders in the open source world doubt the proprietary software company will kill MySQL.

MySQL founder and former CEO Marten Mickos -- who sold MySQL to Sun  -- maintains that Oracle did not shell out roughly $ 7.4 billion simply to annoy Microsoft and IBM. "They can kill the business. But I don't think they will. Larry Ellison is smart," Mickos told Fortune magazine. "MySQL was getting around 70,000 downloads a day when I left. It's an amazing grip on young developers. Having MySQL makes business sense for Oracle."

One open source consultant agrees that Ellison & Co are making a strategic move with MySQL-- but he thinks other Sun open source projects will get killed. 

"A lot of people think Oracle has been a pretty good steward of the open source it has bought.  Also, open source is a pretty go starting point for end-to-end solutions offerings, and now Oracle has almost a complete story," said Chris Maresca, a founder and senior partner at Olliance Group in Palo Alto, Calif. "We've come full circle it seems, but perhaps, instead of giving the software away with the hardware, maybe Oracle with give the hardware away with a software subscription.

"I do think there are a number of overlapping open source projects which will die, like NetBeans and Glassfish, "Maresca added.

Other executives in the open source and proprietary applications business -- some of which are Oracle's rivals -- are publicly skeptical about the prospects for MySQL as well as GlassFish and NetBeans. But they've got to be worried that Oracle's open source agenda is real.

One executive at open source database Ingres didn't mince words. 

"Oracle is the anathema of the open source database community," wrote Emma McGrattan, a vice president of engineering at Ingres, whose blog on Monday alluded to the deal as a ray of sunshine -- for her company.

"I suspect that Oracle sales reps will push MySQL users who have transactional applications toward the free Oracle Express Edition, and from there they’ll be pushed to the Standard Edition and the price tag that comes along with it. Ingres is now the obvious alternative for these open source proponents, and we are being handed an incredible opportunities."

Some speculate that while Ellison may be serious about pushing MySQL, Oracle's well paid sales staff may not have an incentive to sell MySQL subscriptions.

Microsoft would not comment publicly on the deal. But quietly, the Redmond, Wash. Windows, SQL Server and Office giant is happy to point out to customers that the future of Sun's crown jewels is not known.

Oracle  competes with Microsoft in many categories such as databases and CRM  and now adds operating system, programming language and Office suite to that long list. 

"Customers should ask themselves if this acquisition will add more complexity and cost to their environments at a time when the industry is asking for more clarity and value," said one Microsoft spokesman. "The  future of Java and MySQL are uncertain as Oracle has not provided guidance on its plans and we have yet to see how the associated open source communities will respond."

Others are unsure.

"Oracle’s business strategy may be smart—acquiring distressed vendors and milking their revenue stream while cutting costs is certainly helping them post good numbers. But it’s not a strategy about innovation," said Rod Johnson, CEO of SpringSource, which develops programming software for managing and deploying enterprise Java applications architecture. "This deal gives Oracle a shot at important elements it has lacked: a credible open source story and a cloud strategy. How Oracle deals with [open source] is key."

Johnson said the big question is MySQL. "With MySQL, Oracle has the ability to prove it is serious about open source. Thus far, Oracle has neither enjoyed nor seemed to seek open source success, even as open source becomes more and more important," the SpringSource CEO said. 

"[Oracle's] Unbreakable Linux was quickly recognized by the market as a clumsy attempt to capitalize on the open source efforts of others," Johnson added. "Serious commitment to MySQL could change this. However, it also potentially competes with Oracle’s flagship database product. The same issue applies to GlassFish and WebLogic."

He also questioned why Oracle would want to get into the hardware business when virtualization is slowing unit sales and wondered if "Oracle is committed to trying to maintain portability between application servers, now it has control of the JCP?"

Alfresco -- which develops an open source content management system -- said Oracle could leapfrog IBM if it adheres to the rules of the open source industry. But Oracle's ambitious undertaking -- and the multitude of new competitive issues that arise from such a merger -- will be tricky.

“With Oracle buying up an entire data center stack of components from rust to bits, they are going to make a lot of enemies. Despite Solaris being the most prominent platform for Oracle, it's still a minority. The pressure will still be there to play nice," said John Newton, CTO of Alfresco, a leading open source content management system player."

"IBM has lost a real opportunity, especially being the biggest sponsor and biggest winner of open source. Oracle now owning Java, Solaris and MySQL can potentially usurp that position if [Oracle execs] recognize the assets they have," Newton said. "The move by Oracle could potentially be the most polarizing event in the IT industry in the last two decades. New alliances that were previously unthinkable may now emerge, particularly on the application and hardware sides."

Bertrand Diard, CEO of Talend, an open source data integration company, is not worried for his company or for the open source industry. 

"Talend does not foresee a large impact of the recent Oracle acquisition of Sun," Diard said. "From a broader perspective, this acquisition will further solidify Oracle's stance as an open source giant, similarly to IBM, and reinforce the validity of open source and its traction across organizations of all sizes."

What about the fate of Java and MySQL?

Java is open source-based and so widely used, Oracle will be unable to alter its course in any way that could affect Talend," Diard said. "As for MySQL, it also has deeply penetrated the market. MySQL is widely deployed in conjunction with other Oracle solutions and does not compete with Oracle databases."

 Open source storage concern Zmanda integrates its software with MySQL and sees the merger as a win. At theMySQL conference this week, the company announced Visual Log Analyzer for MySQL with Selective Recovery.  

"Both Oracle and Sun have been key contributors to the open source ecosystem. Specifically in storage area, both companies have been associated with cutting edge file system technologies [suchy as] ZFS and Btrfs," said Chander Kant, founder and CEO of Zmanda, an open source storage and backup company. "The combination of the two giants, both of whom have been heavily enabling the use of open source in the enterprise, will enable open source to penetrate the highest echelons of enterprise computing.

The overall take is that Oracle can't touch Java. NetBeans and Glassfish will be killed, the thinking goes. And while many believe that MySQL -- the open source database that has no doubt kept Oracle chief Larry Ellison awake at night -- is at risk, others insist it will survive.

Marc Fleury, founder and former CEO of JBoss, an open source middleware company that was purchased by Red Hat a few years back, said he is not certain.   

"Larry E must have freaked out at the thought of IBM getting its hands on mySQL. This way Larry gets to nip that one in the bud... I always thought he would pull this maneuver on RedHat to get JBoss. Of course the fate of our dolphin friends at SUN is all of the sudden very iffy. Something tells me Larry will try to make something of it and rank and file within Oracle will kill it quickly."

Yet Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at RedMonk,  said keeping MySQL alive will help Oracle compete against Microsoft and IBM. 

"It seems extremely unlikely to me that Oracle - who’d been a rumored acquirer of MySQL before Sun snapped them up - would acquire the business just to kill it, particularly since that MySQL’s phenomenal growth has not come at the expense of their own relational database product. They’ve already played in the MySQL acquisition space, remember, buying InnoDB back in 2005 and maintaining it effectively," O'Grady wrote in his blog. "In the abstract, it’s easy to see how Oracle could use MySQL as a complement to its flagship product; MySQL for low end, low margin accounts where Oracle doesn’t currently compete or, tactically, to undermine [Microsoft]SQL Server and/or DB2 in particular accounts."

The power is in the hands of the open source community, which could reject Oracle's approach to MYSQL.  

The Drizzle project, for instance, is a reengineered MySQL led by Brian Aker, MySQL's former Director of Architecture who is now at Sun. It is a lightweight MySQL designed for the cloud and the web. I

It all comes down to the community. If Oracle tries to win over the MySQL community, it'll be good news for MySQL. If it doesn't try, it will speak volumes about Oracle's intent.

Editorial standards