Three weeks ago I wrote that Amazon RDS was going to eat into MySQL’s revenue potential.  I also pointed out that Amazon’s RDS was but a precursor to future Amazon cloud service offerings for other popular open source products.  While that post was centered on Amazon, it wasn’t a stretch to predict that any of the big IT vendors (IBM, Microsoft, HP, Google, Cisco, EMC/VMware, and Sun/Oracle) would offer RDS-like cloud services in the future.

Well, reading details of the Windows Azure platform this week, the prediction badge no longer applies to Microsoft.  According to Microsoft, Azure SQL will support MySQL, and Azure .NET Services will support Apache Tomcat.  Microsoft will also support PHP and Apache Web Server on Azure.  I’ll focus on MySQL, and to a lesser degree Apache Tomcat for this discussion.  I believe MySQL and Apache Tomcat will be the first two products offered as a service on large IT vendor cloud platforms, aside from the IT vendor’s strategic software stack that is.

When Amazon decided to offer MySQL via Amazon RDS, they did so without purchasing MySQL support from Sun.  I’ve confirmed that Microsoft Azure is supporting MySQL on Azure without paying Sun for a MySQL Enterprise subscription.  The logic as to why Amazon could do without a MySQL Enterprise subscription applies equally to Microsoft:

“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, which is missing out on capturing some portion of the revenue from MySQL users spending on RDS.”

As in my previous post, I don’t want this to be about Amazon or Microsoft versus Sun/MySQL.

The larger point is if Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, HP, Google, Cisco, EMC/VMware, Oracle/Sun offer a simple and supported cloud service for running MySQL, Tomcat, JBoss, Mule or Apache HTTP instances, what reason do customers have to acquire “enterprise subscriptions” from the vendors developing these open source projects?  Until now, the value of an open source “enterprise subscription” has largely been access to support and access to administration and management tooling.  In the case of MySQL, the former is provided by Amazon RDS and Azure SQL as part of the per-hour service.  Again in the case of MySQL, the latter is rendered unnecessary or replicated through Amazon RDS and Azure SQL tools.

If Microsoft can find business justification to offer both a .NET runtime and Apache Tomcat runtime as a service, then I wouldn’t bet on other IT vendors being solely faithful to their strategic software stack in their cloud service offerings.  I expect MySQL and Apache Tomcat will be supported by a plurality of large IT vendor cloud offerings.

Let’s turn our attention to the popular Apache Tomcat runtime. Covalent, now part of VMware via SpringSource, and OpenLogic are leading providers of Tomcat support.  Realizing that the scalable revenue potential is in selling products, SpringSource launched tc Server, or “Apache Tomcat with enterprise management”.  While I applaud the “selling products” angle, I reiterate that enterprise management not enough of a differentiator when up against cloud services from large IT vendors.

I still think that proprietary features in the “enterprise” version of the open source product, which are note available in the “free community” version, will be the path forward for open source vendors. Large IT vendor cloud offerings for open source products will rely on availability of the “free community” version and whatever features are supported in this version.  If there are compelling features outside of administration and management tooling in the “enterprise” version, then customers have a reason to skip the IT vendor cloud service and pay for the “enterprise” open source product.  I know the proprietary features suggestion is difficult for open source vendors to accept, and more importantly, difficult to rationalize in front of customers.  Difficult, but necessary.

In the end, there is no way that all expenditures on open source products such as MySQL or Tomcat will occur through a large IT vendor cloud service.  Clearly customers will want to use open source in their private data centers and acquire support and administration/management tooling from the open source vendor. There is also clearly an issue if IT vendors capture too much of the customer expenditure on open source products via their cloud services, leaving open source vendors behind these products to scrimp on future product development.  A happy medium will be found.  Well, it may not be happy enough for open source vendors as they watch large IT vendors capture revenue around open source products. But that’s competition for you.

Fun times ahead.

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