IBM to Release Java Database to Open-Source Group

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2004-08-03

IBM to Release Java Database to Open-Source Group

IBM has bequeathed to the open-source movement something it desperately needs: a full-featured, enterprise-ready Java database.

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.

Click here for more details on RDBMS market growth in 2003.

"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."

Next page: A ubiquitous standard?

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Charlie Garry, senior program director of database research for the Meta Group Inc., said that the move was particularly interesting in terms of licensing. Handing it over to Apache is a much more hands-off move than what Computer Associates Inc. did in terms of custom-licensing its recently open-sourced Ingres database, for example, and differs from MySQLs modified GPL license, which basically dictates that projects written on top of MySQL either be open source or that developers pay for a full license.

CA will release the code for its Ingres relational database at LinuxWorld. Read more here.

"[Thats] quite different in terms of a statement of support for open source coming from IBM than even what CA has done with Ingres or even what MySQL has done," said Garry, in Simsbury, Conn. "[Apache is] a pure support model. Their hope is it becomes a ubiquitous standard in the types of embedded applications it would be appropriate for, and theyll make some money on support of it. Which is better than what theyre making now, which is nothing.

"Its in stark contrast to what MySQL has done," he said. "Theyre increasingly becoming much more commercial. Its all or nothing with them. For a great many companies, thats unacceptable. [MySQL] continuously has to backpedal and issue [license] exceptions and so forth. I just think ultimately the GPL license is going to prove too restrictive as this market gets competitive."

Cloudscape is embedded in some 70 IBM applications, including Workplace, WebSphere Portal and WebSphere Application Server. It has a 2MB footprint and is fully transactional, fully embeddable and requires no database administration support.

IBM plans to release a commercial version of Cloudscape to partners and customers later this year. It will be based on the same technology as the Apache code and will be updated with changes brought forth by the development community.

IBM has made a binary copy of Derby available at Over the coming weeks, the code will be downloadable from

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