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eADT at LinuxWorld Update: IBM open-sources Cloudscape DB

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - UPDATED - IBM disclosed this week at LinuxWorld that it has donated its Cloudscape database to the open-source Apache Software Foundation (ASF). The Java-based, embeddable DB, now called “Derby,” was open-sourced to “spur communal innovation for Java application development,” said Janet Perna, general manager of IBM’s data management operations.

“By open-sourcing Derby, we hope to accelerate the development of Java-based applications and to drive innovation around Linux and Java communities,” Perna said during a press conference held at the LinuxWorld Conference, underway this week in San Francisco.

Cloudscape/Derby was originally developed during the early Java days by start-up Cloudscape, which was acquired by Informix, a company IBM acquired in June 2000 for $1 billion. IBM officials admit that the small-footprint (2MB) relational database at first drifted under the company’s radar after the acquisition.

“It was a sleeper,” conceded Jon Prial, VP of marketing in IBM’s information management group. “There were a lot of products in the Informix portfolio. Cloudscape didn’t have a large installed base, so it didn’t get a lot of attention. But developers understand good technology, and when developers get excited about technology, things happen.”

Derby is a fully embeddable database that IBM’s own developers have put into more than 70 of the company’s products, Prial told eADT, including the WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere Portal and Workplace.

Prial sees the contribution of Cloudscape to the ASF as yet another step in the evolution of IBM’s ongoing open-source strategy. Prial was part of the IBM team that, in 1998, conducted an analysis of open source that led to the formulation of that strategy.

“This is a ubiquity play,” he explained. “It’s all about building the broader developer community. [With an open-source project] you get innovation, you get a broader community working on technology, and it allows us to innovate at the technology level and above it. The fact that IBM is providing this product for zero license fee and just selling support shows that we are recognizing a changing world.”

IBM currently participates in and contributes to more than 150 open-source projects, Prial said. Those contributions include a $1 billion investment in Linux in 1998 and a $40 million donation to Eclipse in 2001, among others.

At more than a half-million lines of code, IBM estimated the value of its Cloudscape contribution at $85 million, officials said.

Greg Stein, director of the Apache Software Foundation, said that open-source developers would “improve on Cloudscape, build new tools, and take it in directions that IBM either could not or did not think of.” Derby was approved earlier by developers in the Apache Incubator Project, Stein said, and will be available for download on the foundation’s Web site.

IBM has also claimed support for the project from more than a dozen business partners and Linux distributors, including Red Hat, Novell, SUSE, Turbolinux and Red Flag. Once Derby is formally approved by the ASF and accepted by the community, IBM plans to base its IBM Cloudscape offering on the same technology as the Apache code and market it commercially, the company said.

Although IBM's announcement was greeted generally with a kind of wait-and-see optimism at the conference, some attendees expressed serious skepticism about Big Blue's motives. One attendee, who preferred to remain anonymous, told eADT that Big Blue was simply making it someone else's responsibility to improve and promote software that wasn't making the company any money.

A move like this does have the potential to turn second-string technology into a significant revenue stream for IBM, observed Mike Gilpin, VP and research director at Forrester Research.

"In general you have to be cautious in looking at these efforts to take a piece of technology that grew up in a commercial context and push it out into an open source project," Gilpin said. "Sometimes those efforts work out very well, but quite often they don’t, and the percentages tend to work against you. There are thousands of open source projects, and a small percentage of them are actively being worked on by a real community of developers."

Still, the fact that IBM has utilized the Cloudscape technology in so many of its own products should reassure the open source community that Big Blue is behind the effort, Gilpin said, especially the company's decision to utilize it in its Workplace products.

Of course, the future of an open-sourced Cloudscape/Derby ultimately depends on whether it excites developers. "If they look at the code and see things they like and want to carry forward, that's when things will start happening with the technology," Gilpin added.

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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