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Sun purchases MySQL: Perspectives and Analysis on the Impact

by Ryan Slobojan on Jan 17, 2008 |

In a move which caught many off guard, Sun Microsystems announced that it would be acquiring MySQL AB, the company which owns and develops the MySQL database, for $1 Billion USD. InfoQ analyzed the announcement, reactions, and spoke with Kevin Harvey, Chairman of the MySQL board of directors, to learn more about this deal and what it may mean for the future.

Harvey told InfoQ that there were two main drivers behind Sun's purchase of MySQL -- it solidifies Sun's role in the Web 2.0 datacenter, and it also confirms Sun's position as a leading provider of open source software. Others also added in the potential for increased sales of Sun hardware, the apparent positioning of Sun as an open source parallel of Microsoft, and further sign of a dramatic turnaround for Sun in the last two years. Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun, added another major benefit:

"We are really acquiring a database that customers and Web companies across the world have moved to at a breathtaking clip," Schwartz said in an interview. "The titans of the Web all use MySQL -- banks, automobile companies, pretty much all of the Fortune 500 runs MySQL in their shops."
[...]
"This gives us access to every hot Web company on earth, and every company that will be hot 5 years from now," Schwartz said. "For us, this is completely landscape-changing."

Another benefit that Harvey pointed out for MySQL in the merger was access to Sun's resources. MySQL will now be able to leverage the breadth of Sun's customer relationships, utilize the existing Sun support system, and integrate with many of the products in Sun's portfolio to increase it's appeal to existing MySQL customers and also expand it's reach to new potential customers. Others agreed that this purchase will directly enable MySQL to be accessible to large enterprises who would have previously stayed away from MySQL due to the company's small size, and Michael Coté of RedMonk speculated that "buying MySQL will also mean a cloud computing opportunity for Sun to host those big MySQL’s in the sky people mutter about frequently".

When asked about a potential focus change for MySQL Harvey indicated that, although he couldn't speak for Sun, his understanding was that Sun would continue to keep MySQL's current focus, and that he would be surprised if Sun changed much about MySQL after acquisition given that MySQL is clearly working quite well. Some were glad to hear of this continuity of path, while others expressed hope of a change in focus under Sun's ownership.

When asked about the benefits of this acquisition for the open source community, Harvey said that this was a further validation of the open source business model -- It showed that open source products are providing a lot of customer value, that it answered questions about whether open source can be a viable business model, and it was able to create value for shareholders while at the same time serving customers and offering great products for free. Rod Johnson, CEO of SpringSource, was in strong agreement with this viewpoint, saying:

This sets a new benchmark for open source transactions. To date, the previous data points (JBoss, Zimbra, XenSource, Gluecode) have not come close to the $1 billion spent by Sun by MySQL and combined barely achieve the amount.

The acquisition of MySQL by Sun marks one of the most significant recognitions of the importance and power of open source as a disruptive force in technology. Under Jonathan Schwartz, Sun is reinventing itself as an open source company, as shown by their investment in the open source application server Glassfish, their decision to open source Java, and the change of their ticker symbol to JAVA. Schwartz and Sun faced a significant challenge: how do you reinvent a gigantic company as a software company–challenging powerful incumbents in the process? I believe that Schwartz has shown real vision in recognition that this was possible only by taking advantage of the modern method of software distribution–open source.

Johnson also pointed out:

Sun and Oracle now appear to be on a collision course. Oracle history shows their utter determination to crush any competitors in the database space, and their ability to do so. Sun is now a competitor in that highly profitable core business. With the loss of momentum from JBoss, the Java EE application server market now looks set to be a two-horse race between IBM and Oracle. Glassfish gives Sun a dark horse in this race, but it's unclear whether this market category will show the growth to accommodate a new entrant, given the growing predominance of Tomcat as a production platform.

In response, Johnny Aqel said:

A very smart move from Sun. I think it is really capitalizing on the move Oracle made a couple of years ago when they bought out the company that developed the main transactional database engine used in MySql: InnoDB. Can't exactly say what Oracle's motivation behind buying out Innobase was, but if it was to bring more potential customers over to Oracle it seemed to have had the opposite effect by giving MySql a lot more credibility resulting in increased adoption in production systems.

Now with development of Falcon (InnoDBs future successor) currently in alpha, Sun will have a potential giant killer on it's hands in the not too distant future.

InfoQ delved into the Oracle perspective, asking what impact this was likely to have upon the relationship between Sun and Oracle - Harvey replied that engineers enjoy having a choice available to them, and that they saw MySQL as better for some applications and Oracle as better for others. He also pointed out that Sun now has an opportunity to offer some very interesting integration with Java in MySQL which would introduce an added benefit for MySQL users. InfoQ also asked what concerns existed around Oracle's ownership of one of the most popular MySQL database engines, InnoDB - Harvey replied that InnoDB was licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), and that an attempt to make InnoDB proprietary would result in a fork. As a result, he expressed confidence that all of the MySQL products would remain under the GPL, while also indicating that he expected work on the new Falcon engine for MySQL would continue. Doug MacAskill hoped that this would create an opportunity to incorporate some popular public patches into the InnoDB codebase, while Laura Thomson believed that such changes would have to await the release of Falcon. Zack Urlocker, Executive Vice President of Products at MySQL, also wrote:

While some folks might see this move as a competitive move against Oracle, I don't think that's the case. MySQL has never attempted to compete head-on against the big DBMS companies. Instead, we've focused on our appeal to Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Telco and Softare-as-a-Service or on-demand companies. In many cases, MySQL co-exists with traditional database offerings. For example, the Independent Oracle Users GroupIOUG reported that a third of their members have MySQL in production along with Oracle. And I don't expect that situation to change.

There was also speculation that the target of this acquisition was not Oracle, but Microsoft. Duncan Martell of Reuters reported:

Forrester Research analyst Mike Gilpin said the acquisition was not so much about going head to head in the database market with Oracle Corp or IBM, but about strengthening its position in helping to run the Internet. "This is Sun girding its loins for battle against Microsoft in terms of who's going to run the Web," he said.

Harvey also told InfoQ that Sun differentiates itself from other integrated-stack vendors such as Microsoft, IBM, RedHat and Oracle through it's existing Java expertise and through MySQL's ubiquity in Web 2.0 applications. Harvey also said that he would not be surprised to see a Solaris-based equivalent to the LAMP stack (a SAMP stack) with Java technology integrated as well.

Stephen O'Grady of RedMonk wrote a detailed analysis of the purchase, saying:

The fact is that the Google’s of the world have made real what Sun itself could not: a network that is, in fact, the computer. And the Google’s of the world, far more often than not, run on MySQL. Via this single acquisition, Sun’s made itself a relevant vendor in a space that very few, if any, of the larger commercial systems suppliers can play in.

O'Grady also described how MySQL has been very disruptive in the database market, and that although growth in traditional high-end accounts had been limited, growth elsewhere was "nothing short of spectacular". O'Grady also pointed out that MySQL has been adding enterprise-level features, but that penetrating the high-end market would be a slow process due to the cost of migration. He also said that MySQL was likely to remain intact and would operate as it is inside of Sun, while also pointing out that the public profile of MySQL and the lack of internal conflict make it far more likely that it will fit nicely into Sun. The possibility of Sun closing the MySQL source was dismissed as "brand suicide", and InnoDB was mentioned as a concern, albeit not a major one. O'Grady concluded:

At the very least, I’m very comfortable saying that this is nothing short of the most important acquisition I’ve seen from Sun in my career.
[...]
The synergies, as the financial crowd likes to say, are there: now it’s all about execution on both the MySQL and Sun sides.

Colm Smyth also speculated on the consequences of this acquisition:

In the short term, I suspect it will mean that MySQL will have an even greater focus on quality and internationalisation, as well as the standard goals of improving performance and extending support for SQL standards.

Other possible consequences:
- Sun could make the license conditions even more attractive for apps based on Solaris or Java (without making them less so for other platforms)
- Sun could bundle MySQL with its products (again Solaris or Java, but also StarOffice/OpenOffice.org), but it would only do this if the mutual relationship with big database vendors was low enough to justify it
- Expect to see published performance figures for MySQL on Solaris, possibly right away or only later when the gap versus Linux et al is big enough
- Sun enterprise products that are based on a relational database are likely to migrate to MySQL or improve their support for it

So over all, I expect MySQL to stay as lovable as ever, but to see lots of synergy with Sun products

Other reactions from around the Internet:

  • Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun and Kaj Arnö, Vice President of Open Source Community Relations at MySQL both blogged about their perspectives on the acquisition
  • Michael Coté - "As a side note, there’s the Hyperic/MySQL partnership to figure out. I’m guessing Sun would rather see their own IT management stack, Sun xVM Ops Center, cross-selling there, if not now, in the future"
  • Elliotte Rusty Harold - "This could be interesting. I generally dislike mergers, and Sun has a really bad track record of buying companies and killing them (anyone remember Cobalt?) but at least this means MySQL won't go to Oracle or Microsoft. Maybe Sun can even take MySQL the last mile it needs to go to replace Oracle for even the largest databases"
  • Kevin Burton - "This is going to yield a great halo effect for Sun. MySQL customers need a solid OS and now they’re going to have one - Open Solaris. They’re going to need a solid filesystem - ZFS. They’re going to need a decent storage array. Sun just happens to have one they’re interested in selling you"
  • Joshua Greenbaum - "Sybase in my opinion would have been a much more logical choice: a company with a long track record in Sun’s customer base, a decent revenue and maintenance stream, and a desperate need for a little renewal"
  • Dan Kuznetsky - "[...] this move isn’t about open source. It isn’t about Web 2.0. It’s about moving Sun from a provider of systems and some system software to Sun as a solutions provider. I expect to hear news of Sun acquiring applications some time in the future as well. The company is being forced by competitive pressures to make this move. It is not at all clear, by the way, that Sun + MySQL will be seen equal to IBM + DB2 or Microsoft + SQL Server by IT decision-makers"
  • Laura Thomson - "What will happen with licensing? Will MySQL still be available under a dual GPL/commercial license, or is it likely to end up under CDDL/SCSL or similar? Changing from one open source license to another can be an extraordinarily difficult challenge both logistically and ecologically"
  • The Register - "Laurent Lachal, open source director at the IT analyst house Ovum, told The Reg: 'I have my doubts about this deal, I'm neutral. Considering Sun's record of buying software companines it has the capacity to build on MySQL's momentum or destroy it. Sun needs be clearer about its open source strategy. However there's a good alignment in terms of culture and Sun can definitely help MySQL move into telecoms and into more corporate environments'"

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This was unexpected by Alex Popescu

While I've been (more or less) expecting this one: Oracle to Acquire BEA Systems (and I'm not very happy with it), I must confess that this is indeed a surprise and I think it is a good step for Sun. There are a couple of more things I am expecting from them, but for now I must say congrats!

./alex
--
.w( the_mindstorm )p.
Alexandru Popescu
Senior Software Eng.
InfoQ Techlead/Co-founder

I've always said: "Sun needs a database...." by Clinton Begin

I didn't find this surprising at all. Oracle, IBM, and now Sun all have full stacks (the latter two even have hardware). Even Borland has InterBase (or whatever they've brand-hacked it to now). I'm actually surprised Sun didn't do this a long time ago. I wasn't sure if it would be MySQL or some deal with PostgreSQL. MySQL was a good choice though, because it has improved significantly in 5.0+ and it was "acquirable" (I'm not sure if PostgreSQL can be acquired).

Look for JBoss to be on the lookout for an enterprise capable database of their own...

How about PostgreSQL by Srdan Srepfler

Sun did some great initiatives to support PostgreSQL, does this mean it will get less attention now?

Re: How about PostgreSQL by Tugdual Grall

I think yes it will get less attention. In the same time, I had the feeling that PostgreSQL was not that used for Web application (in the "LAMP" view of things). Each time I have seen PostgreSQL it was for specific and technical reason, most of the time for "geo/spacial" data.

Tug

Another Perspective by Geoffrey Wiseman

The Falcon ace by Marius Popescu

Very interesting aquisition. A lot of reporters agree on the big interest that SUN had for the future Falcon storage engine. If you look a bit on the project's web page, you'll see that the man behind it is no other then Jim Starkey (creator of Interbase/Firebird).

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