Opinion: Why Sun bought MySQL

With few exceptions, all storage software will flow forth to the open-source community

I'm often asked what I think of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s acquisition of MySQL AB (see "With MySQL buy, will Sun set on its other database partners?"). The inquisitor usually asks the question with an undertone and facial expression that also says, "I don't get it. Do you?"

I think I get it.

I've returned from a recent Sun-sponsored "summit" for financial and industry analysts with a clearer understanding of Sun's overall strategy. I must admit that I've been more than skeptical of a strategy that opens a Sun intellectual property floodgate, deluging the open-source community in code. With few exceptions, all storage software will go with the flow as well. How will that accrue positively to Sun's bottom line? I can't tell you. But that's OK in a way because the answers to that question are as many and varied as there are Sun executives trying to explain the strategy. Oddly, that makes things clearer to me. Again, I say, you just have to believe.

As this last summit demonstrated, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz must still address some nonbelievers in the audience. But I can say that Schwartz has remained steadfast with his vision. These annual events put on by vendors for analysts can feel like a torrent from the public relations fire hose, and every year, the stream is a different color. Not this time. We indeed got sprayed, but with exactly the same stuff as last year. Kudos to Schwartz for rock-solid consistency. The payoff is progressively fewer nonbelievers, both within and outside of Sun.

What has become clearer to me is how this strategy could actually work. I believe that the open-source community will have a progressively greater impact on commercial IT. As Sun executives see it, there are the IT "haves" and the IT "have-nots." The IT haves are those who can afford to invest in IT. Then there are the have-nots who have little IT budgets but big intellectual bank accounts. The have-nots thrive on open-source, but they will progressively join the ranks of the IT haves.

In my mind, the key to understanding Schwartz's strategy is this: Sun wants to make customers out of both the haves and the have-nots so that the company can be there for the have-nots when they become haves. So, back to MySQL. Are you getting it now?

John Webster is the principal IT adviser at research firm Illuminata Inc. He is also the author of numerous articles and white papers on a wide range of topics and is the co-author of the book Inescapable Data: Harnessing the Power of Convergence (IBM Press, 2005). Webster can be reached at jwebster@illuminata.com.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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