How Will Oracle Ownership of MySQL Affect IBM, Microsoft?

With its acquisition of Sun Microsystems, Oracle is bringing the MySQL database into the fold, which analysts agree will pose a challenge for Microsoft and IBM. IBM, however, says its strategy will be unaffected.

As Oracle lays out its integration plans for newly acquired Sun Microsystems, the two rivals it has most obviously affected in the database space are IBM and Microsoft.

The acquisition of Sun brings with it MySQL, a database that has grown in popularity during recent years, particularly for businesses focused on Web 2.0. With the deal now done, Oracle has pledged to not only maintain MySQL but also to bolster its sales, marketing and development teams.

But what does all this mean for IBM and Microsoft? To IBM, the answer is not all that much.

"IBM provides clients [with] a seamless path across this spectrum, as DB2 Express C is the same code base," said Bernie Spang, IBM director of product strategy. "In comparison, if MySQL customers want to move up to enterprise functionality, they have to switch code bases to effectively migrate to Oracle Database. With DB2 there is no migration required.

"MySQL customers would not only have to buy the licenses, but they would have to unload their data out of MySQL and reload it into Oracle Database and then they would have to port their application from MySQL to Oracle Database," Spang said. "With customers running DB2 Express-C all they have to do is pay for the licenses, run the installer and they are done ... applications remain 100 percent the same and no need to move the data."

Microsoft would not answer questions about the impact of Oracle's Sun acquisition on its strategy. But Forrester Research analyst Noel Yuhanna said Microsoft should be concerned that Oracle will use MySQL to challenge it at the lower end of the market.

"Microsoft is definitely worried, mainly from the MySQL and Java perspective," Yuhanna said. "MySQL has become a very popular low-to-mid[range] database, an area where Microsoft has dominated for years. MySQL plus Oracle provides a complete database offering from the lowest to the highest end.

"In addition, the Java and .NET battle has been going on for years; while Microsoft has been busy luring customers with .NET and [Microsoft SQL Server] integration, Java's integration with DBMSes has not been as tight, and this acquisition will enable that," Yuhanna added. "For IBM, it's the [combination of Sun and Oracle] that makes it a big threat, since Sun hardware was losing ground to IBM and [Hewlett-Packard], and now it's got potential to become a big threat, if Oracle executes well."

Matt Aslett, an analyst with The 451 Group, said owning MySQL will give Oracle the opportunity to attack IBM and Microsoft on two fronts, with the Oracle Database focused on enterprise applications and MySQL on Web and departmental applications.

"It will be particularly difficult for IBM and Microsoft to respond since there are no mature direct alternatives to MySQL, particularly at the Web tier," Aslett said. "The most obvious response would be to invest in supporting MariaDB, but although that might be commercially attractive it would be politically problematic. There are numerous emerging Web and distributed data management technologies that would make attractive alternatives, however, and we would expect to see both IBM and Microsoft exploring those and cloud database opportunities."

Much of this will naturally depend on how Oracle executes. In a survey released in December by The 451 Group, 14.4 percent of polled MySQL users said they would be less likely to use the database if it was acquired by Oracle.

"For Oracle the biggest challenge will be maintaining a separation between the Oracle Database and MySQL sales teams and ensuring that they are both incentivized but do not compete with each other ... The other challenge will be injecting some life back into the MySQL development process to make up for the loss of key developers and the stagnation caused by the delay in closing the deal," Aslett said.