Oracle to Buy Sun: Will MySQL Ever Be The Same?

by Ostatic Staff - Apr. 20, 2009

Only weeks after a possible IBM acquisition of Sun Microsystems fizzled, news is out today that Oracle is to buy Sun for $7.4 billion--in the same neighborhood as the price IBM was said to have been looking at. An Oracle acquisition of Sun has substantial implications for Sun, currently one of the largest public open source companies. It promises to put Oracle squarely in the hardware business, but most notably, Oracle will now own MySQL. As Matt Asay notes, Oracle already sought to buy MySQL in 2007 for $850 million,  which was the third time the company had attempted to acquire it. Is this good news or bad news for MySQL?

In November, I called out the very low valuations that Sun, Novell and Red Hat had, and predicted that they all might be acquisition targets, which could threaten their independent efforts as open source companies. That remains my concern as Oracle goes to buy Sun. Almost certainly, Oracle will not preserve all of MySQL's momentum as a free solution, preferring to emphasize the commercial version and the paid support it comes with. I don't doubt that MySQL will remain open source in terms of its development, but Oracle will find every way possible to monetize MySQL in commercial offerings, possibly offering database servers with MySQL and other applications pre-installed. That would move Oracle much closer to the business models of IBM and Hewlett-Packard. It's also likely that Oracle will accelerate the existing effort to offer paid, proprietary add-ons for MySQL

Notably, though, Oracle isn't talking up MySQL right out of the gate. "Java is the single most important software we've ever acquired," Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison said in a conference call, according to MarketWatch. (Oracle's Fusion middlware is Java-based.) Ellison also added this: "The acquisition of Sun transforms the IT industry, combining best-in-class enterprise software and mission-critical computing systems. Oracle will be the only company that can engineer an integrated system - applications to disk - where all the pieces fit and work together so customers do not have to do it themselves. Our customers benefit as their systems integration costs go down while system performance, reliability and security go up."

With Oracle in control of both MySQL and Java, it will be squarely positioned as a leader in web databases and applications. In fact, its control over the entire database space will be so dominant that there are questions about whether the Justice Department might investigate antitrust concerns.

Matt Asay doesn't predict that the Justice Department will investigate, and I have to agree. Dominance in an application category isn't all that's required to set the Justice Department off, as Microsoft can attest to.

Still, though, I find the sheer amount of market muscle that Oracle will have in databases daunting, and not necessarily good for open source. In our recent story on North Bridge Partners' survey on the future of open source, respondents cited databases as the number one application category where open source can be disruptive over the next five years.

Now that Oracle will get a hold of MySQL, it appears that that assessment was right, but MySQL will undoubtedly not remain as focused on free as it was under Sun. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz has often noted that one of the drivers for MySQL adoption in enterprises is that people at the departmental level deploy it on their own, without going through the IT department. In fact, these grassroots deployments of the free version of MySQL were thorns in Oracle's side. I'm betting Oracle will be much more focused on IT-driven deployments of the commercial version, offering support, and the dollars that follow those moves.

Actually, it's fairly staggering to consider all the open source software implications of this deal. For example, I don't see anyone discussing the fact that Oracle will now become the steward of OpenOffice. Could it craft a strategy around Solaris and the OpenOffice suite that could put it in close competition with Microsoft? That's a possibility, but the fourth time was the charm in Oracle's long-standing effort to acquire MySQL, and that's the brass ring that I bet the company is focused on first.

UPDATE: I asked Ross Turk, directory of community at SourceForge, for his opinion on the Oracle and Sun deal. He had this to say:

 "The Oracle/Sun deal makes sense for enterprise Oracle database customers, because they will be able to purchase their operating system, database, and middleware from a single vendor. If Oracle shops decide to take advantage of that by choosing OpenSolaris instead of Linux to power their database servers, they might eventually decide to use it for other things too."

"How this will affect MySQL, which is more competitive with Oracle's flagship database product, is less clear. Oracle says they intend for MySQL to augment their existing suite of database products, but not elaborating further leaves a lot to the imagination. Oracle could conceivably decide to invest heavily in MySQL, perhaps even integrating Oracle technology that's currently unavailable to the community. On the other hand, they could let it gradually flounder or - worse - be strategically reduced to a lead-generation mechanism for the Oracle database."

"Will Oracle have the appetite to continue innovating MySQL? At this point, there are more questions than answers."