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Experts: MySQL could enable IBM to take over the database market

They say IBM should still go after Sun to gain the open-source database

By Eric Lai
April 7, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - IBM's proposal to acquire Sun Microsystems Inc. may, for now, be off the table.

But several experts say IBM should still strive to complete the deal for one key prize -- open-source database MySQL.

Despite being the inventor of the relational database, IBM has played second fiddle to Oracle Corp. in the market for many years, apart from a short blip earlier this decade.

According to industry research firm IDC, Oracle had $8.34 billion in database revenue in 2007, giving it a 37.6% share of the market. IBM was second, with $4.88 billion, or 22.%, primarily from DB2 and Informix revenues. It was barely ahead of Microsoft Corp. (21%), which has been catching up to IBM for the past decade, with its SQL Server database likely already having more users.

IBM could recapture the relational database market by injecting MySQL, already wildly popular among Web 2.0 firms and start-ups, with its vast, storied portfolio of database patents, said Paul Vallee, executive chairman of database support services provider The Pythian Group.

This would involve making as much as 40 years of database R&D and product development open source in order to quickly transform MySQL into a full-fledged enterprise database credible to the largest of customers.

At the same time, IBM would maintain MySQL's popular business model (free to users, except for enterprises).

The move would be an unmitigated boon for enterprise database users, who would gain access to a beefed-up MySQL that would continue to vastly undercut Oracle and Microsoft on price.

If done right, it would lop billions of dollars off the $22.1 billion database market, Vallee said.

"It's an aggressive strategy that would actually change the marketplace completely over five to 10 years," he said.

Miriam Tuerk, CEO of Infobright Inc., a Sun-backed start-up that makes a storage engine for MySQL, "agrees 100%."

"MySQL is already grabbing significant market share from Oracle, and with IBM's brand, R&D capabilities and customer relationships, this may turn out to be the best part of an acquisition of Sun," she wrote in an e-mail late last week before the acquisition talks turned sour. "I already know of many opportunities which would instantly convert to us and/or MySQL should this transaction go through."

Sun lacks database know-how to execute this strategy

Vallee conceded that translating IBM's R&D into actual MySQL features will take some engineering work but that it shouldn't be a big problem.

"Patents exist because they protect innovations that are otherwise easy to implement," he said.

Sun couldn't execute on such a strategy because it lacks the database know-how and the deep financial pockets, Vallee said. "IBM could do this way better than Sun," he said.

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