Interview: Rich Green, Executive VP of Software, Sun Microsystems

by Ostatic Staff - Oct. 06, 2008

Sun Microsystems has been steadily shifting its business strategy toward open source for quite a while now. From delivering OpenSolaris, to pushing ahead with MySQL, to virtualization efforts, open source is driving many parts of Sun's business. We caught up with Rich Green, executive vice president of software at Sun, to ask him about what benefits the company is seeing, and what lies ahead.

OStatic: What benefits is Sun seeing from its broad open source strategy?

Not to be too cute, but that's like asking what's nice about sunshine. At a time when Wall Street is in crisis, licensing costs are out of control and customers are increasingly frustrated with their service contracts, having decided to build an open source business makes us interesting to customers looking to reduce costs and break vendor lock-in. With OpenSolaris, MySQL and now Sun xVM, our virtualization platform, Sun has the world's largest portfolio of open source technology. And certainly we're still driving a huge developer community that is quite pleased with our emphasis on open source.

OStatic: How much is Sun reaching out to and supporting outside open source projects? For example, what is your stance toward, projects developed with MySQL in mind?

There are some projects that we lead, and others where we participate. When others create IP that helps the community, like phpMyAdmin, that's great. We don't try to do it all – nor do we have to. There are plenty of areas for innovation. But we are conscious of our role in the industry and we want to foster innovation elsewhere for everyone's benefit.

OStatic: What kind of development process do you have for MySQL?

The vast majority of MySQL development is done by Sun database group employees, originally from MySQL's engineering team. The MySQL community serves as a source of feature ideas, bug reports, bug fix suggestions, and general product sounding board, but the core coding is mostly done by us. We do occasionally get code contributions in specific areas. For example, Google and Yahoo have both contributed code to MySQL. And I want us to get better about accepting those contributions faster. We're working with our database group to streamline the process, simplify the contributor license (CLA) and so forth.

OStatic: What's coming next for MySQL?

We're working hard to give MySQL much better performance, reliability and scale – a move that's good for web deployers and Sun's enterprise customers. You'll see some of that in MySQL 5.1, which is coming soon. It includes performance enhancements, partitioning, and new replication features for larger-scale databases.

I also want to reiterate that we consider community contributions and feedback more important than ever, so as we move to MySQL 6.0, we'll redouble our efforts to streamline the process.

OStatic: How much of MySQL's popularity is being driven by its close ties to PHP and Ruby on Rails?

Certainly, MySQL continues to be popular with PHP and Ruby on Rails, but popularity is not a zero sum game. It is also true that MySQL has grown in popularity among enterprises, telecoms and even outside of the LAMP stack. I see nothing but opportunity for the MySQL community ahead.

OStatic: Are you seeing a lot of grassroots implementations of MySQL in businesses? For example, do IT administrators sometimes not even know who is using it?

Absolutely. We regularly meet with CIOs of large companies who had no idea that their staffs downloaded and deploy MySQL. And they're happy to hear about how we can help them deploy it safer and more efficiently.

Corporate developers will download and use MySQL to prototype a new application, with the intent to migrate it over to their proprietary database standard once they have the time and get the budget. Often that day never comes.

And on a personal level, as someone who started my career as a software developer, seeing grassroots adoption of MySQL is one of the most gratifying parts of my job.

OStatic: Virtualization is starting to come free with operating systems, and open source virtualization has matured. What do you see ahead for the fee-based proprietary virtualization vendors?

Think about what an important position virtualization software occupies in IT infrastructure. It bridges application platforms, storage, servers and operating systems. So it's no surprise that customers are concerned about vendor lock-in.

I'm not in the business of giving our competitors free advice, but I can tell you what we're doing. Sun is dedicated to making our virtualization platform – Sun xVM -- the industry's most open and cross-platform virtualization solution. We reinforce this promise by being the only major vendor to place most of its virtualization intellectual property under an open source license.

Of course, xVM is built for Internet scale, has robust management capabilities and lots of other features.

OStatic: What can other open source developers learn from the Sun approach of offering free, open source products, but complementing them with added services and an overall business model?

The open source business model has matured past the point of relying on a support subscription to monetize open source. Services cease to be solely about support and breakfix maintenance as a risk management tool and more about contributing to the value of a deployment. We provide a complete range of support, education and consulting services that customers pay for when it delivers direct value, not before.

And we receive community benefits as well – feedback, word-of-mouth marketing, QA, bug fixes, code contributions, events, add-ons.

OStatic: Anything else you'd like to add?

We believe the future of the IT industry will be one defined by the power of openness, whether that's open source software or in IT systems built upon open standards.

We've got some interesting projects under development with MySQL that look at the whole strategy of "scale". Scale is something I think Sun is really well-known for and now we're addressing those capabilities in a broad range of products, whether it's servers, microprocessors, storage, databases or middleware. Sun has a very experienced performance engineering team that has worked on database-scaling for 20 years. Now this team is focused on MySQL and some of the results we're seeing in the labs are very exciting. You combine that with new technologies like Flash Solid State Disks (SSD) and you're going to see some real breakthoughs in price-performance in the next year.

Disclosure: Sun Microsystems is a sponsor of OStatic.