Tony Bain

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Should Oracle Have Bought MySql?

July 05, 2008 | Tony Bain

I don’t think Oracle is going to be kicking themselves too hard here.  From memory in October 2005 Oracle announced it had acquired InnoDB (the most popular transaction storage engine for MySQL).  In late January 2006 Marten Mickos confirmed that Oracle had made a bid for MySQL which was not accepted, although didn’t state exactly when this occurred.  And a few weeks later in Feb 2006 Oracle announced it had acquired BerkleyDB, the other popular transactional storage engine for MySQL.

One view could be that Oracle tried to acquire MySQL, and when it failed it picked up the key dependencies of MySQL that MySQL itself didn’t control.  Another view might be that Oracle had a strategy to acquire all the pieces of the MySQL stack and failed to acquire the central piece, MySQL itself.

So for suspected pocket change compared with the $1 billion that Sun paid, Oracle still very much has a significant hand in the MySQL pie.  While InnoDB is GPL, so in theory it can be forked and developed outside of Oracle’s control, Oracle owns the innovation centre for InnoDB so this is unlikely to happen unless Oracle dumps it (which itself is unlikely, more probable Oracle will continue to develop it to maintain it’s position but I wouldn’t expect major new features to appear in InnoDB ahead of Oracle’s own products though).

Ultimately I don’t think Oracle believes in the MySQL business model enough to pay the price they were asking (I think they saw MySQL as a trajectory offering rather than a direct source of strong revenue growth).  Clearly Jonathan Schwartz has different ideas, but with MySQL revenues of only $70-80 million (0.4% of the No Content: 18.8 billion RDBMS market) that also remains to be seen.

What also remains to be seen is how MySQL’s business model flies in a Sun, a public company that has to be concerned about things like revenue, targets, profits etc.  If I make one of my products better (fix bugs, easy usability, ease integration) that means I will sell more and increase revenue. How will enterprise view building a dependency on a product whose revenue stream is fully tied to a paid support?  Dismiss the concerns as much as you like; it just seems like common sense that making such a product more robust, more usable, more reliable has to be somewhat counterproductive to the vendor.  I don’t want to start a whole debate around Open Source business models, but there is no one else doing this today in any sort of scale in the RDBMS market (IBM, Oracle and Microsoft’s free offerings are more entry point teasers) so it is another area of wait and see.

Anyway it is all very incestuous.  Sun owes a lot to Oracle, but in their apparent move to gain some independence from Oracle (Schwartz had reportedly stated for a while that they wanted to fill their gap in the database market) they have acquired a product which currently has a dependency on Oracle.  Stay tuned because who can predict how all of this will pan out!