Oracle Gives MySQL a Raspberry for Valentines Day

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2006-02-14

Oracle Gives MySQL a Raspberry for Valentines Day

MySQL snagged $18.5 million in funding on Feb. 13, and its a darn good thing, because the open-source database company needs all the help it can get to fend off Oracles yen for open-source tidbits.

To wit: Oracle on Feb. 14 told the world what it already knew. Namely, that it is buying Sleepycat and its embedded database, Berkeley DB. Those whove been following the fortunes of MySQL know that some conjectured that Sleepycat was working with MySQL to come up with an alternate transaction engine to replace InnoDB, which Oracle also swallowed in October.

Thus, as of Valentines Day, Oracle has given MySQL a lovely raspberry, having already snatched the heart of its enterprise-capable 5.0 release and now squashing any potential second marriage to Sleepycat. What a sad Valentines Day for MySQL.

Dont weep yet for the can-do Swedish database company, however. Sources report that MySQL is hard at work to create its own transaction engine. While some have charged that the company lacks enough of the hard-core database programming talent necessary for the task, the companys latest funding score now puts the total amount of funding at $39 million, with the latest $18.5 million targeted for corporate expansion, according to Zack Urlocker, vice president for marketing at MySQL.

Urlocker said the latest funding is designed as a corporate round targeted at "overall expansion." Specifically, MySQL is aiming to tighten relations with Intel, Red Hat and SAP.

"Therere lots of areas where the whole stack is emerging as a significant item in corporate arenas," he said in an interview. "These are companies that are very significant in the enterprise. And open source is obviously something thats continuing to grow very broadly in the enterprise. We have a natural fit with all those companies."

Urlocker continues to insist that the database company isnt all that dependent on InnoDB anyway. "Weve been working on a lot of different transactional engines," he said. "Thats part of our whole architecture, to have a pluggable storage engine approach. There are different engines for different purposes. Thats included internal development we have ongoing, thats included working with a broad list of third-party companies."

OK. So MySQL didnt put all its eggs in the Sleepycat basket. But claiming that InnoDB isnt that crucial likely amounts to little more than keeping a game face. For one, ANTs Software, maker of high-performance database management systems, is more than happy to provide customer wins who point to Oracles purchase of InnoDB as being among the reasons they shied away from MySQL.

Norman Dutt, chief operating officer of sfaFinity, said in an interview that the company decided to integrate ANTs into its flagship sfCRM application after evaluating nearly all the big databases, with open-source databases thrown in as well.

sfaFinity rejected Oracle because of price, SQL Server because of price structure, and MySQL because of "lack of referential integrity on the part of databases," Dutt said

"After the evaluation that [Dutt] did, he got to the decision that MySQL by itself did not support referential integrity because he believed it was provided by InnoDB," said Cesar Rojas, senior marketing director for ANTs. "When they did an evaluation of MySQL and found that Oracle was getting InnoDB, [they found] the only way to do referential integrity was with the InnoDB solution. Without the InnoDB solution, MySQL cannot provide referential integrity."

Dutt confirmed this. "We did a lot of searching in the market," he said. "We did tests with Oracle, PostgreSQL, SQL Server. We came up with the conclusion from a price/performance perspective as well as from a transactional performance perspective, and we couldnt find a better database than ANTs."

MySQLs protestations to the contrary, this prejudice toward InnoDB and against Oracles purchase of it is weighing around MySQLs neck. Thus, the company is very likely to be cooking up its own replacement.

Next Page: The open-source community reacts.


As far as what the open-source community thinks of Oracles intentions regarding purchasing open-source companies, abhorrence isnt uncommon.

For example, a reader and Zend user responding to coverage of Oracles expected purchases of JBoss and Zend—on top of Sleepycat—has no intention of sticking with an Oracle-controlled Zend.

"Im disappointed, and I hope that Zend doesnt cave in and accept any offers," he wrote. "Like many open-source supporters, I dont trust Oracle (or Microsoft, for that matter) and would probably switch from PHP to another scripting language if Oracle were to buy PHP out.

"The same goes for MySQL users that make use of the InnoDB database engine—theyre looking for alternatives. The same would happen if Zend were bought out by Oracle. I think PHPs popularity and effectiveness would quickly change for the worst.

"It is my firm belief that companies as big and powerful as Microsoft, Intel or Oracle get there by making illegal and/or immoral moves. Thats why most of them have been under investigation, at one point or another, for antitrust violations."

Steven Grandchamp, CEO of OpenLogic, which sells a product that allows customers to deploy and manage more than 150 certified open-source stacks, said Oracles Sleepycat buy will be welcomed in the open-source community if and only if Oracle keeps its hands to itself.

"Large enterprises are already using hundreds of different open-source products in their infrastructure—it is not a surprise that large software vendors want to participate in that demand," Grandchamp said. "If Oracle works within the proven open-source model and avoids using the acquisition to create lock-in with their proprietary technologies, then we welcome them to the open-source community."

What exactly does Oracle plan to do with all this open-source booty? BusinessWeek Online caused a stir when it revealed details of what it called "Oracles open-source shopping spree" on Feb. 9. In that article, BusinessWeek Online conjectured that Oracle could well be planning what it called "the biggest endorsement yet by a mainstream software company for a movement that involves legions of developers across the globe who publish open software distributed freely over the Net, making money instead from support and maintenance. Its a bold bet for a company that gets a healthy chunk of its $16 billion in annual sales from multimillion-dollar software packages deals, but Oracle is ready to spend big on open source."

In other words, BusinessWeek Online proposes, Oracle is planning to move from software license revenue generation to an ASP (application service provider) model.

Its a stunning idea that would drive Wall Street nuts, but it makes sense to analysts. Charlie Garry, an independent consultant and former vice president for Meta Group, said that hes been saying for years now that the notion of paying for a software license is simply antiquated.

"Look at the struggle Oracles had adjusting to the multicore [chip pricing issue]," Garry said. "On some we charge 75 percent, on others we charge [whatever]. Its just stupid."

Next Page: The free database trend.


Garry pointed to IBMs recent release of a freebie version of DB2 as being a solid indication of a future trend in which the big software players will move away from software license revenue as a business model. The freebie database in question, DB2 Universal Database Express-C (Community Edition), will have no limit on the number of users and no limit on database size, being deployable on up to two processing cores and up to two dual-core chips on x86 systems. The maximum memory size is 4GB.

That generous dual-core spread and lack of limits is in stark contrast to Sybase Express, SQL Server Express or Oracle Express, which in their limitations are designed to be little more than development platforms.

"[DB2 UDB Express-C] is not just a development platform," Garry said. "You can actually deploy real production applications on it."

A real, functioning, production-level database thats free is an indication of the "further erosion of the concept of software licensing," Garry said.

"Ten years from now, people arent going to buy software at all. Theyre going to go to Oracle or IBM or CA or whoever, and theyre going to hire them for their expertise in something. Companies will be disaggregating their business.

"…So its not necessarily having machines or having somebody run the whole operation," he said. "Its sending people in to look at the business, to design something specifically for your business, so [the business itself is] not doing it. In that world, its an ASP model, its not something were buying."

But even if the shift to the ASP model is in the offing, it wont come anytime soon, Garry predicted. The revenue hit would be too hard, and Wall Street "would go bananas," he said.

But Oracle in the meantime could use the subscription model to upsell, offering support and other options for a fee to those who want it. That would drive adoption by people who download products such as JBoss or MySQL but never pay, while also attracting the Global 5000, who may develop with free versions, but who typically want not only support but also indemnification when they deploy, Garry said.

"Theyre going to want support, and not just support but indemnification—somebody like IBM standing behind the product," Garry said.

The margins for support are huge. Oracle scores some $3 billion a year in new license sales, and they made about $10 billion last year, most of it from support.

But what does going to an ASP model have to do with purchasing open-source companies? Couldnt Oracle just move its own applications to the model?

Garry suggested that open source beckons as a business Oracle just cant ignore—one where components are relatively cheap to buy, and by buying those components, a significant amount of users come with them.

Oracle said in its release about the Sleepycat buy that Berkeley DB is said to be the most widely used open-source database, for example, with an estimated 200 million deployments. At the same time, the market opportunity presented by the embedded database space is expected to grow from $2 billion in revenue in 2005 to $3.2 billion in 2009, according to IDC data cited in Oracles statement. As it is, Oracles embedded database product line also includes Oracle Lite for mobile devices and Oracle TimesTen, designed for high-performance, in-memory database applications.

"Im assuming [Oracles] hope is that by buying these [open-source components], the switching costs will be too high, that people will stay with it," Garry said.

Thus, Oracle controls the space and hopefully upsells. Even if only a tiny percentage, say 1 percent, of open-source users eventually buy from Oracle, it will still be a useful signal to Oracles core audience—i.e., the enterprise software buyer—that open source is legitimate and has large companies such as Oracle solidly behind it, so deploying it more widely in the enterprise is a safe bet.

At any rate, Oracle is smart enough to know that such a scenario will eventually happen whether or not Oracle controls the adoption of open source. Why not control that adoption if it can—and the purchase of Sleepycat and InnoDB clearly shows its can—and make money off it?

"[Oracle is likely saying], Wed rather control our future rather than have somebody dictate to us," Garry said.

With regard to how JBoss would benefit Oracle, should that acquisition rumor prove true: It would allow the company to get a handle on its many disparate application suites, according to Judith Hurwitz, president of Hurwitz & Associates.

"The Fusion [Middleware] spec is not codified software—that means they need middleware now. They cant wait," said Hurwitz, in Waltham, Mass. "Theyll use JBoss as integrating middleware ... [to develop] a consistent set of services across all their suites. Just to maintain each separate [infrastructure] is very expensive."

Fusion, according to Hurwitz, is "just not done. Its not consistent across the entire stack."

Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments from Judith Hurwitz.

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