August 6, 2004

Will DB2 and Oracle databases go open source?

Author: Jay Lyman

A prediction that both IBM DB2 and Oracle databases would head toward open source in some way by the end of the year got a little more interesting as Big Blue announced a partnership with the Apache Software Foundation to release its Cloudscape Java-based database to the community, which is turning the database into an open source project called Derby.

MySQL Vice President of Marketing Zack Urlocker said databases and related software are among the technologies most impacted by open source. He likened the idea of open source in major, proprietary databases such as DB2 and Oracle to the initial inroads that Linux made with business.

"Just like five years ago, nobody took Linux seriously as an enterprise-class platform, now everybody's got to have a version running on Linux," he said. "There's an interesting phenomenon in IT in the emergence of open source as part of every IT buyer's strategy. I think what's going to happen is open source will be the criteria to evaluate databases. You don't have to do it, but I think we'll see all companies embracing open source."

"We predict by the end of the year, Oracle and IBM will open source their databases," Urlocker said.

There may be some support for the prediction in Computer Associates' open source moves with Ingres and IBM's Cloudscape release to Apache.

The companies themselves, however, offer little credence to Urlocker's forecast.

Oracle spokesperson Eloy Ontiveros said the company would not comment on speculation or rumor and would make an announcement if it had one regarding the release of source code for its market-leading database. Ontiveros did indicate, however, that there are no plans afoot to open source Oracle DB.

"Based on our track record and success in this industry, I don't think that you would see us do that," Ontiveros said. "MySQL has their idea of where the market's going to go, we have our sense of where things are going to go."

IBM Director of Data Management Software Paul Rivot, who indicated the Cloudscape release came to fill internal and customer needs and a relational database gap in the Java environment, said Big Blue is always looking at open source as an option.

And even though the $85 million Cloudscape release -- viewed as a statement to counter accusations that IBM uses open source code, but doesn't contribute to it -- came as a result of a "groundswell" of demand in the last two years, Rivot said IBM is unlikely to make similar moves with DB2.

"We always look at everything, but we have no plans to do that," Rivot said.

Yankee Group senior analyst Dana Gardner, who referred to DB2 as "really core and a good business," was not surprised to hear IBM's discount of the open source prediction.

However, Gardner said what might be more interesting is an IBM release of more information and code of its Tivoli management technology, which could provide a key piece to the Web services puzzle and deliver IBM's vision of service-oriented architectures.

"One of the things that would allow for greater progress in the Web services stack would be management capability," Gardner said.

As for Oracle, the analyst said it was "pretty unlikely" the software company would open source its database.

PostgreSQL database core team member and advocacy volunteer Josh Berkus said both IBM and Oracle may release their databases as open source, "When Satan buys a snowsuit."

"Regarding DB2, I think you should look at the Cloudscape announcement to see
what IBM thinks of open sourcing their own assets," Berkus said. "Cloudscape is
'abandonware.' IBM is open-sourcing it specifically because it wasn't selling
commercially. DB2, which is profitable, will not be open-sourced until it ceases to
be so. There are also some vehement attacks on both PostgreSQL and MySQL in the current DB2 literature, where IBM is claiming that open source is not suitable for mission-critical databases. Mind you, IBM continues to be a huge champion of OSS in other areas, including ones which benefit the PostgreSQL project, so this is probably an example of where the right and left hands don't share an opinion. They might change their tune eventually, but certainly not in
the next year."

Berkus said because its proprietary database is the center of the company's entire commercial enterprise, Oracle is also very unlikely to move its database toward open source in any way.

"Why would they open-source it?" Berkus asked. "It would be tantamount
to admitting that they are ready to go out of business. Oracle and
DB2 will get open-sourced only when it becomes painfully obvious, through
plummeting sales, that closed-source development can't keep up with OSS
development, at which point it will already be too late. But this year, Oracle
is not even admitting that they need to lower their license fees due to
increased competition, which they do."

Berkus did say, however, that based on recent talks and concern from IBM Informix database users regarding the future of the database in a DB2-centric strategy, there is hope IBM may open source that database.

IBM's best way to stop wholesale migration of Informix users would be to open-source Informix itself," Berkus said. "That way it would at least be an OSS project that they control instead of ones like PostgreSQL, MySQL, and Ingres that they don't have a voice in. But that's strictly from talking to Informix users
at a blatantly OSS convention, so my perspective may be biased."

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