October 2009


News that Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) provides a MySQL 5.1 relational database in the cloud has been met with a lot of interest.  On the surface this is good news for open source users and proponents.

When I read about RDS, I wondered if this was in fact good news for open source vendors.  I asked if Sun/MySQL was being compensated for Amazon’s use of MySQL in RDS.  Sun sources confirmed:

“The MySQL database that is used in Amazon’s RDS is based on the free, community version of MySQL.  However, for those Amazon Web Services customers that need MySQL technical support, Sun does offer that through our MySQL Enterprise subscription.”

At this point, it’s helpful to stop treating RDS as a competitive action against Sun/MySQL.  The rest of this post could apply equally to another open source project, the related open-core or dual licensed product and the related open source vendor. I fully expect to see Amazon continue to offer open source middleware components; RDS is the first step. I only mention Sun/MySQL below to help explain my thinking, not to draw any conclusions to its current or future market position.

Amazon’s decision to use the free version of MySQL to build RDS is completely sensible.  First, Amazon has the technical skills to support their usage of MySQL without having to acquire the MySQL Enterprise subscription. Second, this decision helps Amazon lower the cost of RDS, which makes RDS more attractive to customers.  This is clearly not good news for Sun/MySQL who is missing out on capturing some portion of the revenue from MySQL users spending on RDS.

Customers can still pay Sun/MySQL and Amazon to deploy MySQL Enterprise to the Amazon elastic compute cloud (EC2).  But with the introduction of RDS, Amazon is asking, why bother?  RDS reduces the need to manage, administer and support a MySQL environment. These are the key reasons one would purchase MySQL Enterprise.  RDS makes these three purchase drives less valuable to customers.

Until now, open source vendors have attempted to secure revenue by offering management and administration capabilities only through a for-fee product offering built around an open source core product.  Amazon has just thrown a major wrench into that strategy.  Why pay for the vendor’s “enterprise” product to obtain management, administration and support, when Amazon’s Cloud service minimizes the need for management and administration and includes support?

So what can open source vendors do?  Well, first, open source vendors have time to respond since the majority of workloads are not (yet?) in the cloud.  Second, proprietary features will be required in the “enterprise” version that are not available in the “free community” version of the product.  These features must not fall into the administration and management category.

Proprietary may just be an open source vendor best strategy against Amazon and other cloud providers.

Thoughts?

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Oracle updated its frequently asked questions (FAQ) overview of the impending Sun acquisition to address some important questions about the fate of Sun’s software assets beyond Java and Solaris.

To be completely honest, none of Oracle’s plans come as a surprise.  And at the end of the day, the FAQ is not legally binding and is not a commitment to deliver products, code or functionality. Oracle clearly states this at the end of the FAQ.  This too is completely understandable.  Oracle, like any other company with shareholders, will have to evaluate and adjust their plans and intentions on a product by product basis over time.  Oracle has a fiduciary duty to do so.

In the FAQ, potentially released to appease the EU and critics of the deal, Oracle tackles its plans for MySQL as follows:

“Oracle plans to spend more money developing MySQL than Sun does now. Oracle expects to continue to develop and provide the open source MySQL database after the transaction closes. Oracle plans to add MySQL to Oracle’s existing suite of database products, which already includes Berkeley DB, an open source database. Oracle also currently offers InnoDB, an open source transactional storage engine and the most important and popular transaction engine under MySQL. Oracle already distributes MySQL as part of our Enterprise Linux offering.”

This position makes complete sense as MySQL and the Oracle DB are more complimentary than competitive.  I doubt that this assurance from Oracle will help Monty, Florian, RMS and others opposed to Oracle’s ownership of MySQL get past their fears.

Not unexpectedly, Oracle plans to keep GlassFish around, since it is the reference implementation for Java EE:

“Oracle plans to continue evolving GlassFish Enterprise Server, delivering it as the open source reference implementation (RI) of the Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) specifications, and actively supporting the large GlassFish community. Additionally, Oracle plans to invest in aligning common infrastructure components and innovations from Oracle WebLogic Server and GlassFish Enterprise Server to benefit both Oracle WebLogic Server and GlassFish Enterprise Server customers.”

The plans for NetBeans are somewhat certain.  You’ll notice that Oracle makes no claims about “investing more than Sun does today” or “continue evolving”.

“As such, NetBeans is expected to provide an additional open source option and complement to the two free tools Oracle already offers for enterprise Java development: Oracle JDeveloper and Oracle Enterprise Pack for Eclipse. While Oracle JDeveloper remains Oracle’s strategic development tool for the broad portfolio of Oracle Fusion Middleware products and for Oracle’s next generation of enterprise applications, developers will be able to use whichever free tool they are most comfortable with for pure Java and Java EE development: JDeveloper, Enterprise Pack for Eclipse, or NetBeans.”

Finally, Oracle suggests that OpenOffice.org and a commercial offering will receive investment.

“After the transaction closes, Oracle plans to continue developing and supporting OpenOffice as open source. As before, some of the larger customers will ask for extra assurances, support, and enterprise tools. For these customers we expect to offer a typical commercial license option.”

So there you have it.  Oracle’s plans for Sun, well, based on current thinking and subject to change at Oracle’s sole discretion.  Which again, is perfectly sensible.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

I read two articles yesterday that lead me to believe OpenLogic’s best days are ahead.

First, OpenLogic reported a 41% year to year increase in 3Q09 revenue with a 100% renewal rate.  These are strong results and the renewal rate suggests that clients value OpenLogic’s offerings.

Second, the US Department of Defense (DoD) CIO issued clarifying guidance regarding open source usage by the DoD.  The DoD memo deals with some misconceptions about using open source and goes on to explain that open source software should be considered when it can potentially meet the needs of a given mission.  Of note to open source vendors, the DoD paper states:

“The use of any software without appropriate maintenance and support presents an information assurance risk. Before approving the use of software (including OSS), system/program managers, and ultimately Designated Approving Authorities (DAAs), must ensure that the plan for software support (e.g., commercial or Government program office support) is adequate for mission need.”

The DoD would prefer open source usage to be aligned with “appropriate” maintenance and support.  OpenLogic touts its ability to support and maintain 500 plus open source software projects.  Seems like a perfect match.

While OpenLogic provides support for 500 plus open source projects, the top five projects that customers sought support for in 3Q09 were JBoss, Apache HTTP Server, Apache Tomcat, MySQL and PostgreSQL.  Interestingly, four of these five projects are controlled and driven by well known open source vendors that offer their own support subscriptions.  The fact that customers chose to acquire support from OpenLogic versus going directly to the vendor controlling the project suggests that some customers prefer to consolidate their support contracts and experience.  I suspect that the DoD and other government agencies would see the value of a streamlined support process across tens or hundreds of open source projects used by the DoD.  However, if the DoD wanted to modify and redistribute an open source project without being required to share their changes, a commercial license from the project’s copyright holder would still be required.

Government agencies do tend to purchase though a government-approved systems integrator (SI).  Some of these SIs are already endorsing open source.  I wonder if one of these firms will see competitive advantage in acquiring OpenLogic. Okay, well, maybe a strategic partnership would be a first step.

While the financial services sector is the largest driver of OpenLogic’s revenue, it’s important to note that government is amongst the fastest growing revenue contributors.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that government becomes OpenLogic’s top revenue contributing sector over the next two years.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Like many of you, I awoke Monday to read that whitehouse.gov was now running on open source products including Durpal, Red Hat Linux, Apache web server, MySQL and Apache Solr.

It goes without saying that this news has generated lots of excitement. I am however more interested in what this news means to Open Source for America (OSFA), a group advocating open source adoption by the US Federal government. I recently spoke to OSFA spokesman and Red Hat executive, Tom Rabon and concluded:

“Overall, it seems there is plenty of work ahead for OSFA, especially in the area of getting decision maker buy-in. Lucky for OSFA that its membership, and its members’ willingness to help OSFA reach its goal, continue to grow as well.”

In discussing the use of open source at whitehouse.gov, Tim O’Reilly, an advisor with OSFA, wrote:

“While open source is already widespread throughout the government, its adoption by the White House will almost certainly give permission for much wider uptake.”

I completely agree with Tim, as does OSFA’s John Scott who had the following to say via email:

“This is great news not only for the use of open source software, but the validation of the open source development model. We look forward to collaborating with the Whitehouse as they interact and join with the wider open source community to potentially release source code back to society.”

I was previously unsure how OSFA would get its findings in front of government decision makers. I was expecting to hear that OSFA had plans to schedule briefings on open source best practices for government decision makers. I assumed that these briefings would (further?) open the door to open source vendors securing contracts with government agencies. The OSFA could and likely still wants to take this approach. However, it’s great to see open source vendors getting a stronger foothold in US government accounts by themselves. Or at least through federally approved systems integrators endorsing open source.

As with any industry or market segment, some buyers are innovators and early adopters while others await the comfort of their peers. While individual open source vendors can win with early government adopters, the OSFA’s efforts will make it easier for the early and late majority government buyers to seriously consider open source.

The OSFA has been handed a golden springboard to leap from as it reaches out to government decision makers. Individual open source vendors stand to benefit from the OSFA not just through new revenue potential, but also from the OSFA encouraging government agencies to contribute code to open source projects. This truly is a win-win relationship between the OSFA and individual open source vendors.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Raindrop is a Mozilla Lab’s project that could simplify the email experience by increasing the signal to noise ratio within inboxes and increasing the contextual information about a message.  Raindrop’s mission is to:

“make it enjoyable to participate in conversations from people you care about, whether the conversations are in email, on twitter, a friend’s blog or as part of a social networking site.”

While Raindrop is being developed by the Thunderbird team at Mozilla, the team explains that Raindrop is not another email client.  Rather, Raindrop is a communication application.  I don’t completely agree with this distinction.  Today’s email clients are communication applications, aren’t they?  Today’s email clients may not be as well suited to handle today’s web communications as Raindrop can.  However, they’re still communications applications.  In any case, I’m pretty excited about Raindrop and suggest you watch this demo video.

Raindrop can intelligently categorize email based on pre-built and user defined extensions.  For instance, Bryan Clark, the design lead for Raindrop, asks: “why should advertisements from an Airline push an email form my mom further down the list. I know one is more important than the other, why doesn’t my email?” Another example could be grouping emails from twitter based on their conversational importance.  Notifications of direct messages and replies are more important to a user than notification of a new follower.

Message categorization is just the beginning.  Raindrop aims to support any message source on the Internet.

You begin by giving Raindrop your credentials to message sources such as GMail or Twitter, and in the future, any IMAP email account, feeds, instant message networks or social networks.  This allows Raindrop to collect messages from various sources on the Internet.  Each message is further split into documents that the Raindrop Workqueue will work on to gather contextual information for you.  The documents and contextual information is stored in CouchDB.  These documents and contextual information are then combined into a message, surfaced through your browser, and in the future your mobile phone. Sounds confusing, so let’s look at a hypothetical usage scenario.

Let’s say you receive an email to your GMail account from your friend Erik.  The email contains a YouTube video, a street address and has a Facebook notification message which is being forwarded.  It seems that Erik’s friend Lisa, who you really like, asked Erik to go a local bar to hear her favorite band play.  Erik forwarded the message to you and a few other friends and included a YouTube link to the band to pique your interest.

Raindrop would treat the YouTube URL, the street address and the Facebook ids as separate documents.  The Raindrop Workqueue could do some work on each of these documents.  For instance, the Raindrop Workqueue could connect to the YouTube API to get more information about the video and create a thumbnail of the video.  The Raindrop Workqueue could also connect to the GoogleMaps API, map the address and get a Street View image of the address.  Finally, the Raindrop Workqueue could check if you’re friends with the person who sent the Facebook message, and if so, pull the person’s Facebook profile picture and recent status. These three documents and the resulting contextual information would be stored in CouchDB.  Then, when you open the email message with Raindrop, you’d see a thumbnail of the YouTube video, Google Street View image of the bar and Lisa’s Facebook picture and status.  Raindrop is highly extensible, so you can create new document types for the Workqueue to process and new display extensions to properly display the new document type.

Raindrop is still early in development, so some parts of the usage scenario above are futures.  But it’s easy to see how useful Raindrop could be.

Go ahead, give Raindrop a try.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

But this should have little impact on Oracle’s intentions for MySQL.

After finishing my post about Marten & Monty’s differing views on the Oracle acquisition of MySQL via Sun, I read that Richard Stallman (RMS) had published an open letter on the topic.  Matt Asay tweeted:

“Has anyone read this RMS/KEI/ORG ltr? It’s living in dreamland. ORCL buying MySQL to prevent “erosion” of its core DB biz? What erosion???”

Since Matt and I agree on much more today than 2 years ago, I began reading the open letter with less than an open mind.  However, since I haven’t really followed Oracle’s database business, I decided to look into Oracle’s financial reports to confirm or reject the “erosion” claim.  I have to say, RMS may not have a black belt in pragmatism, but he’s right.  Note however, I don’t think this fact changes Oracle’s likelihood of shepherding MySQL appropriately.  More on this point later in this post.

I’ve plotted two revenue growth lines for Oracle over the past two years and a quarter.  The blue line represents Oracle’s total revenue growth for fiscal year 2008, 2009 and for the first quarter of fiscal 2010.  Oracle had a great fiscal 2008, with nearly 25 percent year to year revenue growth.  More recently, Oracle’s total revenue declined by 5.2 percent in the first quarter ended August 31, 2009.  Not a shocking story considering the economy and Oracle’s $20 billion plus yearly revenue base.

The red line however is where it gets interesting.  Oracle reports database and middleware revenue together.  This category is largely made up of Oracle’s database products and Oracle middleware products resulting from the BEA acquisition.  However, even before the BEA acquisition, IDC estimated Oracle’s database revenue to be nearly 9 times larger than BEA’s middleware revenue.  So, for our purposes, we can assume that Oracle’s “database and middleware” segment is extremely sensitive to Oracle’s database sales.  The red line represents new license sales of database and middleware revenue reported by Oracle.  New license revenue is closely watched because it shows the vendor’s ability to attract new customers and new business.  As the red line shows, Oracle’s core database and middleware business is facing significant challenges in attracting new business.  A 0.5 percent decline in fiscal year 2009 could be considered an aberration, but following it up with a 22 percent decline in the first quarter of fiscal 2010 is alarming.  Erosion is clearly demonstrated by the red line below.

As I previously mentioned, the erosion in core database revenue is not reason enough to think that Oracle will try to systematically damage MySQL’s technology, future or user base.  The free-to-low cost and easy to use database genie is out of the bottle.  If MySQL were to become less viable after an Oracle acquisition, another database would take its place.  It may take years, but it’ll happen.  Even if MySQL were to disappear tomorrow, the competition from open source and free closed source databases would continue to target Oracle’s new license database and middleware revenue.  Should the acquisition be approved, it’s in Oracle’s interest to ensure that MySQL users remain MySQL users that Oracle can sell other parts of the Oracle portfolio into.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Ex MySQL leaders on opposite sides of EU vs. Oracle discussion

MySQL’s ex-CEO Marten Mickos and MySQL co-founder Michael ‘Monty’ Widenius have recently released open letters to the EU. Marten writes in support of Oracle acquisition of MySQL, as part of the Sun acquisition. Monty writes to block MySQL from being controlled by Oracle.

Considering their points of view, I have to say that I’m no longer convinced that the EU should just approve the acquisition and let market forces take over. In the long run, I think, and hope, that Oracle will act in its best interests, and those interests will align with MySQL customer interests; emphasis on “I think” and “hope”.

Let me start with Marten’s conclusion as to why the EU should allow the Oracle acquisition:

“I believe that Oracle’s acquisition of Sun (and MySQL) will increase competition in the database market. And I also believe that if, on the other hand, it becomes difficult or impossible for large companies to acquire open-source assets, then venture investments in open-source companies will slow down, harming the evolution of and innovation in open source, which would result in decreased competition.”

I completely agree with Marten here. If open source vendors and their VCs aren’t able to sell to larger companies, who may or may not be competitors, than open source investments will be negatively impacted. Closed source vendors have purchased their closed source competition in the past. And yes, the acquiring vendor has, more often than naught, migrated the customers to the acquiring vendor’s product. Should Oracle attempt this with MySQL, proponents of the deal argue that MySQL customers have several options from other firms providing MySQL support and services. To this end, Marten writes:

“…the few thousand customers of the MySQL Enterprise subscription offering.

These customers would be alarmed by a slow-down in development of MySQL and/or in the increase of price of the subscription offering. But they would not be alone. If the product did not evolve, these users could turn to the forks that would emerge. And as for commercial subscription services, they could turn to the various firms that provide MySQL services. If there were a sufficient number of such customers, it might turn out to be a market opportunity for a larger services-oriented company.”

However, in a position paper that Monty’s company funded, and written by Florian Muller, an influential EU & MySQL stakeholder, Muller writes:

“If the new owner decided at some point to call a halt to MySQL’s climbing up the disruption curve, it would be extremely difficult for any other commercial entity (hereinafter referred to as a “fork vendor”) to pick up the thread from there and practically impossible to do so quickly. This kind of competition would be ineffective compared to the competitive pressures exercised by MySQL AB while it was independent or by the MySQL division of Sun Microsystems, even if such an entity had the theoretical ability to recruit many software developers previously involved with MySQL.

To come straight to the most important point, the bulk of MySQL-related revenues at this stage depends on the two largest income streams, dual licensing and premium subscriptions, and on the current basis, a fork vendor would find itself effectively precluded from tapping those revenue sources.”

Muller argues that expecting existing and future MySQL customers to reject Oracle’s control over MySQL and turn to a “fork vendor” will not be commercially viable enough for the “fork vendor” to the degree that it was for the owner of MySQL’s brand and IP. A “fork vendor” would not be able to offer a non-GPL licensed version of MySQL. This is an important revenue driver with ISVs who don’t want to GPL license their product or enterprises that do not want to utilize GPL code. On the seemingly simple, yet costly front, the “fork vendor” wouldn’t even be able to reuse MySQL’s existing documentation, and would instead have to recreate product documentation. The “fork vendor” would also be exposed to patent infringement allegations, which may be difficult for the “fork vendor” to defend against, especially if the plaintiff is a large company with deep pockets and a large patent portfolio.

Muller and Monty have surfaced enough questions for the EU, and open source community, to rethink whether “anyone can fork the code” is reason enough for Oracle to shepherd the MySQL code, company and community appropriately. In the end, I actually think it makes business sense for Oracle to do so. And I hope that Oracle realizes the benefits of a vibrant MySQL customer and user base.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

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