Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Sun refuses to give up on software acquisitions, buys MySQL for $1 billion

We knew that Sun has been lusting after a real software business in addition to Solaris. We knew that Sun "shares" -- that it digs open source, including Solaris and Java. And we knew that Sun had a love-hate relationship with Oracle and a hate-hate relationship with IBM and Microsoft.

So toss this all in a big pot, put on simmer and you get a logical -- if not three years too late -- stew: Sun Microsystems intends to buy MySQL AB and its very popular open source database. The announcement comes today with a hefty price tag of $1 billion.

The MySQL purchase by Sun makes more sense than any other acquisition they have done since they botched NetDynamics 10 years ago. This could be what saves Sun.

Sun can make a lot of mischief with this one, by taking some significant oxygen out of its competitors' core database revenues. Sun can package MySQL with its other software (and sell some hardware and storage, to boot), with the effect that the database can drive the sales of operating systems, middleware and perhaps even tools. Used to be the other way around, eh? Fellow blogger Larry Dignan sees synergies, too. And Tony Baer has some good points.

Who could this hurt if Sun executes well? IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, Sybase, Red Hat, Ingres. It could hurt Microsoft and SQL Server the most. Sun could hasten the tipping point for the commercial relational database to go commodity, like Linux did to operating systems like Unix/Solaris. Sun could far better attract developers to a data services fabric efficiency than with its tools-middleware-Solaris stack alone. As we recently saw, with Microsoft buying Fast Search & Transfer, the lifecycle of data and content is where software productivity begins and ends.

Sun will need to do this right, which has its risks given Sun's record with large software acquisitions. And Sun won't get a lot of help ecology-wise, from any large vendors. This puts Sun on a solo track, which it seems to prefer anyway. I wonder if the global SIs other than IBM will grok this?

Yes, it makes a lot of sense, which makes the timing so frustrating. I for one -- and I was surely not alone -- told very high-up folks at Sun to buy and seduce MySQL three years ago. (I also told them to merge with SAP, but that's another blog.) When Sun went and renamed it's SunONE stack to the Java what's-it-all, I warned them it would piss off the community. It did. I also told them Oracle was kicking their shins in. It did. I said: "Oracle has Linux, and you have MySQL." Oh, well.

[Now, Oracle has BEA, which pretty much dissolves any common market goals that Oracle and Sun once had as leaders of the anti-Microsoft coalition. The BEA acquisition by Oracle was a given, hastened no doubt to the close by the gathering gloom of of a U.S. economic recession.]

I'm glad the Sun-MySQL logic still holds, but Oracle has already done the damage with Linux, we saw how that Unix-to-Linux transition put Sun on its knees, and on the defensive. And we know that Sun has only been able to get one leg up since then, albeit refraining from falling over completely. Now, with BEA, Oracle with its Linux and other open source strengths -- not to mention those business apps -- will seek to choke out the last light from Sun, and focus on IBM on the top end, and Microsoft on the lower end. As Larry Ellison said, there will be room for only a handful of mega-vendors -- and we cannot be assured yet that Sun will meaningfully be one of them (or perhaps instead the next Unisys).

Indeed, the timing may still have some gold lining .... err, silver lining. Sun has had to pay big-time for MySQL (a lot more than if they had taken a large position in the AB two years ago). And what do they get for the cool $1 billion? Installed base, really. Sun says MySQL has millions of global deployments including Facebook, Google, Nokia, Baidu and China Mobile.

There's more, though. The next vendor turf battles are moving up yet another abstraction. Remember the cloud thing? Sun in sense pioneered the commercialization of utility computing, only to have Amazon come out strong (and added a database service in the cloud late last year). IBM has cloud lust. Google and Microsoft, too. Sun's acquisition of MySQL could also help it become a larger vendor to the other cloud builders, ie telecos, while seeding the Sun cloud to better rain down data services for its own users and developers.

And that begs the question of an Oracle-BEA cloud. Perhaps a partnership with Google on that one, eh? Then we have the ultimate mega-vendor/provider triumvirate: Apple-Google-Oracle. It's what Microsoft would be if it broke itself up properly and got the anti-trust folks off of their backs (not to mention a reduction in internal dysfunction). And that leaves loose change in the form of Sun, IBM, Amazon, eBay, and the dark horses of the telecos. Sun ought to seduce the telcos, sure, and they know it. Problem is the telecos don't yet.

Google may end up being the cloud king-maker here, playing Oracle and Sun off of one another. Playing coy with IBM, too. Who will partner with Amazon? Fun times.

Surely if Sun can produce a full-service cloud built on Solaris-Intel-Sparc that includes low-energy-use virtualized runtimes, complementary tools, and integrated database -- and price it to win -- well, the cloud wars are on. Sun might hang on for yet another day or two.