Oracle Not Fiddling with Sleepycats Open-Source License—Yet

Oracle's buy of the open-source embedded database company Sleepycat boils down to two things: deeper reach into the lucrative embedded database market, and deeper reach into the theoretically lucrative open-source community.

Oracles buy of the open-source embedded database company Sleepycat boils down to two things: deeper reach into the lucrative embedded database market, and deeper reach into the theoretically lucrative open-source community.

"Theres two driving reasons: The first is theyre the market leader in their category, embedded database software," said Robert Shimp, vice president of technology marketing at Oracle, in an interview. "Theyre extremely popular on edge-based devices like network switches. Theyre very popular in all kinds of embedded storage systems, application security systems, [etc.]."

Oracle has already been in the embedded database market for some time, Shimp pointed out, with its Oracle Lite database for mobile devices and TimesTen, designed for high-performance, in-memory database applications. With those two products at the low end and the high end, respectively, Berkeley DB will fill an important gap in the middle, Shimp said.

And the fact that its an open-source database is vital to customers in this particular market, given their need to customize code. "One critical requirement of customers in this market is the ability to customize their database product," Shimp said. "Every device you embed has unusual constraints or needs. So open-source databases are a perfect fit. Thats why Berkeley DB has been so wildly successful there."

But equally important to the technology itself is the further penetration into the open-source community it will afford Oracle, which is hungry to learn all it can about the community—and how to make money off of it.

"There are very different business models to open source than commercial," Shimp said. "Customers are attracted to open source for a variety of reasons: low or no entry costs, using software with IP rights that come with the software, and a variety of aspects like customization. For Oracle to be able to offer two models to customers means we can expand our offerings. … Berkeley gives us a lot more experience in this whole new world of the open-source market."

The lucrative part of that market is, of course, support and subscription services—areas in which Oracle has a vast footprint, with the worlds largest enterprise support organization.

"[Those are] very high-margin, very profitable business [opportunities]," Shimp said. "Theyre successfully used by a number of companies. For us thats a great opportunity. Oracle has the worlds largest enterprise support organization. We can take open-source projects and turn them into a massive global opportunity."

Do Berkeley DB users want Oracle to turn their projects into massive global opportunities? Furthermore, do they trust Oracle to refrain from tinkering with Sleepycats dual license, which offers an open-source and commercial version?

The Sleepycat acquisition has closed and thus far everythings remaining status quo, including retention of the brand name, no change to business models and no change to licensing. Shimp said Oracle has "no plans to change the licensing terms that we offer as of right now."

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That does leave the door open to future changes, but the acquiree and the acquirer both confirm that, for now, customers wont notice any changes.

"In the short term, theres no change from a customer standpoint," said Rex Wang, vice president of marketing for Sleepycat. Sleepycats entire staff is being retained, including its development crew. "Were going to continue to maintain our products, maintain our support, maintain our dual open-source license, and our Web site will continue forward as well. We hope to minimize disturbance. Customers will continue to receive support for [the database]."

At any rate, concern over the open-source license is moot to the customers Oracle will look to for most of its revenue, since theyre using the commercial license for Berkeley DB.

George Schlossnagle, vice president and principal consultant for OmniTI Computer Consulting, deploys Berkeley DB for some customers. "Most of our customers use these technologies for commercial purposes," he said. "So they werent covered under the open-source alternative for most Sleepycat products. At which point youre looking at commercial licenses anyway. So theres little fear there" that Oracle will upset the apple cart.

Indeed, most of the fear around the acquisition comes from those who are using the MySQL database, Schlossnagle said, since Oracle has now bought both companies that provide transactional back ends for the MySQL database: Berkeley and InnoDB.

"The major thing Im hearing from my customers is fear about the future of MySQL," he said.

MySQL, for its part, is rumored to be working on its own transactional engine as a way to wean itself off reliance on Oracle, now the owner of both of its transactional engines.

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