Thursday, March 19, 2009

Database Implications if IBM Acquires Sun

Reported or rumored merger discussions between IBM and Sun are generating huge amounts of discussion today (some links below). Here are some quick thoughts around the subject of how the IBM/Sun deal — if it happens — might affect the database management system industry.

  • IBM is already serious about supporting multiple database management systems. DB2 on open systems is IBM’s flagship DBMS. But DB2 on mainframes and at least one flavor of Informix seem to be getting maintained and enhanced fairly seriously as well. And IBM has further DBMS products as well (e.g., DB/2 on the AS/400). There’s little reason to think IBM would orphan MySQL or any other DBMS product.
  • IBM is very open-source-friendly. For a company that grew up for decades on proprietary software — and still is a huge software products vendor — IBM is very serious about open source. If you doubt that, I have two words for you: “Linux” and “Eclipse”.
  • MySQL might finally get its industrial-strength act together. IBM is good at database management and good at open source. MySQL becoming a no-apologies transactional DBMS would obviously put pressure on Ingres, PostgreSQL, and EnterpriseDB, although there surely would be lots of happy talk about the open source DBMS market being validated, lifting all the vendors and so on. Also, a better MySQL could be bad news for Microsoft SQL Server too.
  • Sun has a lot DBMS partnerships right now. Obviously, Sun owns MySQL, and has partnerships with MySQL storage engine vendors such as Infobright and Kickfire. Sun also has a substantial partnership with Greenplum, and a Barneyesque* one with ParAccel. And of course Sun has strong working relationships with major database vendors such as Oracle and Sybase. What’s more, on a case-by-case basis, Sun may cooperate in the field with yet other DBMS sellers. E.g., I’ve confirmed at least one instance of a Sun sales rep recommending a Kognitio DBMS.
  • IBM partners with outside DBMS vendors too. You’d think IBM’s gazillion DBMS product lines would be enough. But nooooo. I frequently hear rumblings of IBM’s hardware or services operations working with other DBMS products as well. (This is, of course, actually to their credit.)
  • Short-term, there probably would be little effect on partnerships. Greenplum runs on Sun’s Thumper/Thor line of boxes. DB2 doesn’t, and certainly isn’t optimized for same. In the short term, to sell Thors, Sun would presumably continue to sell Greenplum.
  • Longer-term, there could be a DBMS rationalization. DB2, Informix, MySQL + storage engines, and big independent vendors such as Oracle and Sybase would surely always get attention. That’s a lot. There might not be room for much mind share for many database products and vendors beyond that list.

*A Barney partnership is one in which two or more vendors get on stage and do a song and dance about how much they love each other, with little substance beyond that.

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