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Sizing up Oracle's open source tactics

Oracle's recent maneuvers in the open source software market are all about the upsell, according to one IT industry analyst.

Oracle's recent maneuvers in the open source software market are all about the upsell, according to one IT industry analyst.

Noel Yuhanna, an open source analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, says that with the acquisition of open source mainstay Sleepycat Software Inc. and its embeddable Berkeley DB database management system (DBMS), Oracle hopes to gain new opportunities to upsell customers on many of its proprietary offerings.

Oracle announced plans to purchase Lincoln, Mass.-based Sleepycat back in February. Last October, Oracle acquired Finland-based Innobase, the creator of InnoDB, a transactional database engine distributed as part of MySQL AB's open source database. Many industry observers speculated that the Innobase acquisition was designed to disrupt Oracle rival MySQL's business.

In this interview, Yuhanna sizes up Oracle's overall open source strategy and says that MySQL is very close to completing a homegrown replacement for InnoDB.

What do you make of Oracle's recent moves in the open source market?

Noel Yuhanna: Open source databases are certainly putting the pressure on Oracle, but also on other closed source databases [like IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server]. The whole notion is that [open source] will certainly hamper some of the market growth for closed source. The number-one concern, which a lot of Oracle customers have, is the cost issue. Oracle is more costly and expensive than other databases. Open source databases are certainly having an impact, and it obviously has caused Oracle to rethink its strategy as to how they should be looking at this market and how they should be responding to the open source adoption. By taking on the Sleepycat and Innobase acquisitions, Oracle is leveraging open source to grow its mainstream products. Customers who are going to be using Sleepycat will find some integration values with other Oracle products. So, Oracle will upsell some of those products.

How big a threat does open source pose to proprietary database management systems (DBMSs) like Oracle's flagship offering?

Yuhanna: Open source databases are certainly going to be increasing in adoption, and I think you're going to see that all the other database vendors are going to be providing some additional form of integration with the open source products, because customers are going to use them.

With the Sleepycat purchase, Oracle acquired the embeddable Berkeley DB, a product that does not compete directly with Oracle's DBMS. Why do you think Oracle chose the embedded market for one of its first forays into the open source market?

Yuhanna: It's actually an area in which they were lagging behind. You have companies like Sybase. Sybase offers embedded database software. Progress Software also offers embedded database software. These are smaller areas of penetration. In other words, embedded databases are not really end-user-focused. The embedded market is mainly driven by ISVs or partners who are embedding these databases within applications or devices such as cell phones or mobile devices or applications. The market for these has been very small compared to the overall end user database market and that's the reason why Oracle hasn't put much effort into this. The Sleepycat acquisition really helps extend the market, especially as customers start to look for broader solutions outside embedded databases and they want integration with [Oracle's] mainstream products such as its database. That is where Oracle is going to be upselling some of these mainstream database products.

Do you expect the embedded market to grow significantly in the coming years?

Yuhanna: Absolutely. The market is growing but not as significantly [as mainstream DBMSs. The embedded market will grow] probably by about 10% to 20% over the next couple of years. But the more important thing is that these embedded databases will require integration with the core back-end databases such as those for ERP and CRM systems which require larger, comprehensive databases.

Several IT professionals recently told me that they believe Oracle is attempting to pump up the open source sector in the hopes of weakening Microsoft's standing in the marketplace. Do you agree with this contention?

Yuhanna: No, not really. Microsoft SQL Server has got a greater momentum than Oracle. They grew 22% last year and they're showing aggressive momentum this year as well. Oracle is dealing with two disparate challenges. One is open source and the other is Microsoft. [Oracle is not] investing in open source to fight a battle against Microsoft. That will be another battle they have to win on their own. The open source is just a leg into the open source market, and the main goal is to again leverage their main database products.

Do you think the Innobase purchase was designed to disrupt Oracle rival MySQL? If so, will MySQL recover?

Yuhanna: The good thing is that MySQL has an open technology which means that they can have the transactional engine developed by any partners or any other vendor. MySQL's transactional engine was being supplied by Innobase, and now that Innobase is part of Oracle we have seen some decline in the Innobase adoption rates. MySQL has come up with a partner relationship with SolidTech, which is now offering a transactional engine for MySQL. Secondly, I believe MySQL is developing its own transactional engine which will be coming out in the near term. That should be able to help supplement some of those Innobase engine requirements.

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