The company on Tuesday announced it is releasing its Java-based Cloudscape database to the Apache Software Foundation.
The embeddable database, acquired when IBM purchased Informix in 2001, represents a sizable slice—$85 million—of the $1 billion IBM paid for Informix. The full-featured Java database is the first full, commercial product donated to open source, and definitely the first fully functional Java database—something sorely needed in that community, said Paul Rivot, director of Database Servers and Business Intelligence at IBM.
"Its the first, fully functional Java database in open source," said Rivot, in Somers, N.Y. "[The community had access to] ISAM [indexed sequential access method], which was rudimentary, just above a file-system database, not a full Java database. … [which] is desperately needed in this area."
IBM is contributing more than half a million lines of relational database code within "Derby," the name its giving to its current Cloudscape product. Rivot said that Derby is a play on the word "database."
IBM is of course casting the move in an altruistic light, saying in a release that the move was motivated by the hope of accelerating innovation around Java applications, "which will in turn create new business opportunities based on a broad spectrum of applications, including those that use embedded databases and those for small businesses."
The move is clearly also an attempt to disrupt markets, however. While IBM is an arch-competitor of Sun Microsystems Inc. in the Java market, others see the Cloudscape move as a frontal attack on Microsoft Corp.
"IBM is smart about markets," said Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass. "It doesnt do things out of the goodness of its heart. For IBM, this is taking an asset its not getting a lot of value out of today and putting it in a place where it can get value out of it. By having people use the Java stack rather than the Microsoft stack, thats good for IBM."
But this is more about the database market than it is about Java, Schadler said. Within the database market, MySQL ABs open-source database is eating up market share and mind share. When Forrester surveyed companies six months ago, it found that two-thirds of companies are using open source. Of those, half are using MySQL.
"In particular MySQL is gaining significant inroads," Schadler said. "IBM clearly would rather have an IBM-sponsored project [being used as an embeddable open-source database] than something it has no control over, namely MySQL."
The developer community for Cloudscape now consists of about 80 IBM developers, Rivot said. IBM of course anticipates that population will explode when the open-source community gets its hand on the code, but just because a product goes open source doesnt mean it will succeed, as can be witnessed by the failure of the PostgreSQL database to thrive under this model.
Schadler said that Cloudscape will succeed where others have failed for three reasons. First, its being hosted by Apache, which is an "extremely credible and well-supported organization," he said. Second, this technology is enterprise-ready, he said. Finally, IBM will truly let go of it.
"It has to, because of the structure of the open-source license, and it will attract open-source investment, and IBMs got credibility in the open-source community," he said.
Rivot agreed. "Some of the other ones [such as PostgreSQL], theyve thrown it over the wall to see where it sticks," Rivot said. "In this case, there is a groundswell [of support], and that caused us to look and pay attention to it. The usage will continue to grow."
The groundswell within IBM came from divisions such as Lotus and Tivoli, which clamored for a lightweight, embeddable database such as Cloudscape to be turned over to the open-source community. "There was a groundswell on the use of a bunch of products, especially Cloudscape," Rivot said. "It was our view that open-sourcing this would be interesting. A lot of folks were interested in embedding it, in small business solutions. Partners have also taken interest as we announced it."