Sun's MySQL Move: A Win-Win

If Oracle's $8.5 billion acquisition of BEA solicits mixed reactions from industry watchers (see separate story), Sun's more modest $1 billion purchase of MySQL engenders a different kind of reaction altogether. With few exceptions, most pundits we asked see it as a win-win for both companies -- and a signature milestone in Sun's long and painstaking trek back to relevancy.

"[When] I compare these two big acquisitions…[I] walk away with a view that Oracle paid $8.5 [billion] to carve up an older steer and have a BBQ while Sun paid $1 [billion] to buy the most promising race horse to win the Kentucky Derby," commented industry veteran Bob Warfield, a principal with SaaS and Web 2.0 think tank Smoothspan. "What a brilliant move for Sun! Now they've united a couple of the big elements out there, Java being one and MySQL [being] the other."

Gordon Haff, a senior IT advisor with consultancy Illuminata, has a less exuberant take on Sun's move. He sees it as a good thing for Sun as well as a great thing for MySQL. The rub, he says, is that while it's possible to make a profit selling software support contracts, it's easier to (or makes more sense to) when you've yoked those support contracts to the sale of complementary technologies.

For example, marketing and supporting simply an open source database isn't as profitable as marketing and supporting an open source database in tandem with complementary hardware, data and application integration middleware, and -- of course -- services. That's just what Sun proposes to bring to the table.

"Open Source or not, enterprise customers often appreciate the sort of global support that large vendors are better prepared to offer. And the ability to put together sets of products that address broad business problems is more appreciated yet. However, in the case of Open Source specifically, the fact that a large vendor can leverage Open Source products to sell other software and even hardware creates far more revenue opportunities than when the only thing a company can sell is a support contract on a single piece of software," wrote Haff on the Illuminata Weblog.

"In the Sun and MySQL case, for example, one can [imagine] Sun eyeing the vast population of MySQL users not so much for the opportunity to sell MySQL support contracts but as an entree for selling other Sun middleware, Solaris, and Sun hardware. One can imagine a conversation like this repeated many times: 'Oh, you need better performance out of MySQL running on Linux? Of course, we're happy to help. But you might think about Solaris because we have this DTrace tool. We also have this ZFS file system. And, oh, have you heard about Thumper?'"

That's the strategy that Sun's chief Jonathan Schwartz outlined on his blog.

"We've historically worked at arm's length to optimize MySQL on Sun's platforms. Just as we did for Oracle in their early days, our performance engineering teams will sit (virtually) with their counterparts in MySQL and in the community, leveraging technologies such as ZFS and DTrace…to ensure Sakila flies -- along with the rest of the [Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP] stack," Schwartz wrote.

"I've asked our team to negotiate an arms' length commercial transaction, prior to closing, that allows us to provide Global Enterprise Support for MySQL -- so that traditional enterprises looking for the same mission critical support they've come to expect with proprietary databases can have that peace of mind with MySQL, as well," Schwartz continued. "This gives traditional enterprises a world of new choices and competition.… [I]f there's one item customers have been asking from us for years it's more innovation in the database marketplace -- we're now in a position to respond."

There's more, too, according to Schwartz: the addition of MySQL helps give Sun a one-stop open source stack, from the operating system to the database to the virtualization tier to -- even -- the data integration middleware (J2EE).

"[N]o platform vendor has assembled all the core elements of a completely open source operating system for the Internet," he claimed. "With this acquisition, we will have done just that -- positioned Sun at the center of the Web, as the definitive provider of high performance platforms for the Web economy."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a contributing editor for Enterprise Systems. He can be reached at [email protected].