With MySQL buy, will Sun set on its other database partners?

New siblings insist there's no sign of parental favoritism

By paying $1 billion for MySQL AB, Sun Microsystems Inc. has anointed the popular open-source database the centerpiece of the open-source software stack it is trying to build.

So what happens to all of the other databases, especially the proprietary ones, that Sun supports and sells today? Will those arrangements quickly become history, as Sun embraces the open-source way? Or will customer demand force Sun to only slowly disentangle from proprietary software vendors? Or will the company withdraw at all?

Database vendors that partner with Sun today and that were willing to comment insist they are confident their relationships will remain unaffected.

"Relationships aren't always dictated by the vendors, but by the customers," said Raj Nathan, chief marketing officer at Sybase. Sun and Sybase are longtime partners, especially with banking customers, for whom Sun's high-performance servers and Sybase's databases remain popular.

Nathan noted that Sun has long competed with Sybase in the application server market. "As much as people would like to draw up a black and white list of who's your friend and who's your enemy, it's no longer like this," he said. "The software industry has changed in this regard in the last six or seven years."

In a Jan. 19 blog posting, Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's president and CEO, wrote that he "wanted to be as clear as I could: this transaction increases our investment in open source, and in open source databases. And increases our commitment to Postgres -- and the database industry broadly. The same goes for our work with Apache Derby, and our JavaDB [Sun's version of Derby]."

Parsing Schwartz's commitment to "the database industry broadly," it seems possible that Sun eventually could withdraw from supporting or selling individual proprietary databases, such as Sybase, Teradata or Oracle.

Sun and Oracle have a major alliance around so-called "optimized [data] warehouse solutions."

During a Jan. 16 conference call with Wall Street analysts after the MySQL deal was announced, Schwartz said that Sun and Oracle have "worked together for decades" and that they plan to continue doing so. However, he added that Sun wants to broaden "the portfolio of choice" that it offers to customers.

"Our customers value Oracle's presence in the marketplace, but they also value Windows in the marketplace, [and] they also value MySQL in the marketplace," he said. "We're definitely looking to partner with a whole diversity of companies that historically we may not have partnered with, such as Intel, IBM and Dell. We think there's opportunity everywhere we look, and we're not interested in closing off any of that opportunity."

An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment on the potential ramifications of the Sun-MySQL deal.

But Bob Zurek, chief technology officer at EnterpriseDB Corp., said he thinks that "Sun is firing up a big battle with Oracle" through the MySQL acquisition. "The battle lines are being formed. I think we'll see another database war," Zurek said. He argues that EnterpriseDB, because of its strong Oracle compatibility and roots in the open-source PostgreSQL database, will benefit.

EnterpriseDB also provides support for instances of PostgreSQL bundled into Sun Solaris 10 servers.

"Our relationship with Sun will continue, I don't see that changing," said Zurek.

Before buying MySQL, PostgreSQL was Sun's favorite open-source database. Greenplum Inc. makes a data warehousing appliance that runs PostgreSQL on a Sun Fire X4500 server.

A week after buying MySQL, Sun invested in the privately-held Greenplum.

Miriam Tuerk, CEO of InfoBright Inc., a vertical database startup whose storage engine works inside MySQL, argues that Sun may eventually cut off relationships with non-open-source software.

Sun wants "MySQL to lead them in a different direction," she said, which is fine with her. "We're on board the Sun train. We love them."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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