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Open source databases - a sword that cuts both ways?

Plus c'est la même chose

By Philip Howard, 4 Apr 2005

Is open source strategic? This is a question that every company thinking about the use of open source products needs to face. If open source is strategic then, like any other strategic resource, it needs to be managed: you need to have a specific strategy for open source products.

The first thing to decide is the areas in which open source is to be deployed. Does this only apply to Linux and network servers or does it extend to application servers, databases and development environments? In each case, you also need to decide which open source products you are going to endorse from a strategic perspective.

If we take the open source database market as an example, we have MySQL, PostgreSQL (both generically and from Pervasive), Ingres, Firebird, Max DB, Cloudscape, the putative Sun DB (possibly), HSQLDB and a bunch of others. Now, some of these are niche products but, even so, there are too many of them. Not all of the companies involved will be able to make enough money out of these products to stay in business. That means that at some point in the future the market will consolidate and a number of these products will disappear. This may not matter too much if the products are not that important to you, but it certainly does if they are strategic.

So, the first step in a strategic approach to open source is to decide what products are most likely to stay the course. The companies and products with shaky backgrounds, and where you cannot see how they can make enough money to survive, should be avoided. Further, since these are being treated as strategic, you also need to ensure that the suppliers of these solutions can provide adequate training and support (since, as strategic products, you will surely need these). In other words, you need a shortlist of potential vendors that you are happy to deal with and you need to mandate that the company limits itself to these strategic choices when deploying solutions.

This is bad news for open source enthusiasts. Fans of the open source movement would, not unnaturally, like to see open source products adopted as strategic. But who are the vendors that are most likely to be accepted as strategic partners by users? If you think about databases it is going to be IBM (Cloudscape) and CA (Ingres) at the top of the list. And the same will happen in the development (Eclipse) space. That's not to say that a few of the pure players wouldn't make good, but it won't be the free-for-all that some advocates of open source might like.

Open source is just another licensing model: the more accepted it becomes, the more it is adopted at a strategic level, the more it plays back into the hands of the traditional behemoths that dominate the industry: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.


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