Sun Buys MySQL For $1 Billion

Reprinted from the Tech Times #182.

Open source enthusiasts were reeling this week when Sun Microsystems announced that it will be purchasing MySQL AB, the company behind the development of the popular MySQL database software, for US $1 billion.

The spin from both camps was positive, but what does the deal mean for web developers? And what impact is it likely to have on other open source projects?

To attempt to answer these questions, we need to look at a number of factors, including Sun’s history with open source technologies, its competitors, and the success of other open source technologies that have been commercialized.

While it’s not without its detractors, there’s no denying that Sun has a pretty solid history when it comes to involvement in the open source world. The company claims to be the biggest contributor to the open source community, a claim that, based upon its release of the Solaris source code in 2005, and the Java programming language in 2006, is difficult to refute.

But there is other evidence of Sun understanding the value of keeping software open source and free: projects like OpenOffice.org and NetBeans have healthy communities and promising road maps. In fact, if you examine Sun’s current offerings to the corporate world, the only key component missing from the portfolio (and one that competitors such as Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft already offer) is a database. MySQL, with over 10 million installations worldwide (including high-traffic sites such as Google and Facebook) is a natural fit.

One concern that web developers may have is that the licensing terms will change — what if Sun decides to start charging a licensing fee for each of the installations of MySQL?

In my opinion, this just won’t happen, simply because Sun realizes that it hasn’t bought a database — it’s bought a community. A community of employees, developers, and clients.

Related to this is the question of whether development of the cross-platform releases of MySQL will stagnate, with Sun’s energy being focused on compatibility with the Solaris platform. Here’s what MySQL’s VP of Community Relations, Kaj Arnö, had to say on the matter:

“I don’t expect (the development of MySQL on Solaris) in any way to be at the cost of other popular operating systems (Linux, Windows, Mac OS/X, other Unixes etc.) or development environments (PHP, Ruby on Rails, Perl, Python, ODBC, C++, C#, VB etc.). MySQL grew with LAMP, and MySQL without LAMP at its core is simply unimaginable. It was MySQL’s part of LAMP that interested Sun in the first place. Hence I don’t see Sun having a platform migration strategy, but to continue to be an integral part of the dot in .com.”

In short, Sun understands the business model around open source software, and it wouldn’t have invested $1 billion into a company only to screw over its users for a short-term profit when the long-term prospects — driving MySQL into the corporate arena with paid support — look so bright. There are plenty of other open source databases (PostgreSQL, for example) with comparable features and performance that customers would quickly migrate to if they were unhappy.

And as for the figure paid by Sun? While some would suggest the number was low given the size of the MySQL user base, $1 billion is a lot of money in anyone’s eyes. Let’s take a look at some other recent open source acquisitions [source]:

  • US$210 million for SUSE Linux (Novell)
  • US$400 million for JBoss (Red Hat)
  • US$500 million for XenSource (Citrix)
  • US$350 million for Zimbra (Yahoo!)

I’d say the MySQL team would be feeling pretty happy with themselves right now. Who said there was no money in open source software?

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