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3/18/2009
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IBM + Sun: Too Late For Open Source?

Anything IBM could acquire from Sun's existing open source portfolio, it could develop on its own or buy more cost effectively from another vendor, analysts suggest.

While IBM's open source strategies could benefit from an acquisition of Sun Microsystems, industry observers believe such a deal would have had more strategic value a few years ago.

Reports that IBM is in talks to buy Sun for $6.5 billion in cash set off a firestorm of skepticism, debate, and handwringing from software experts who worry what will happen to Sun's open source projects if the deal goes through.

Some believe that anything IBM could acquire from Sun's existing open source portfolio, it could develop on its own or buy more cost effectively from another vendor.

"If IBM wants to meaningfully change their open source strategy they can do it on their own. They could open source some elements of DB2, or more aggressively throw its weight behind any number of open source projects involving Apache or SOA," said Dana Gardner, president and principal analyst with Interarbor Solutions.

Gardner and other observers said however, that one product IBM could benefit from is Sun's MySQL open source database software. They said an acquisition also could potentially play an important role in any proposed cloud computing strategy the companies might come up with.

"If IBM pursues this deal with Sun just for this idea of creating an open cloud, it would be worth it. They [Sun] could become a full service provider for open cloud solutions because it has all the components including MySQL and Java, said Rafael Laguna, CEO of Open-Xchange.

Laguna said as recently as Monday he was discussing Sun's potential role in establishing an open source-based cloud with Sun's CTO Greg Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos was uncharacteristically terse in his communication with Laguna about Sun's plans in that area, which is more understandable given the reports about the acquisition surfacing Wednesday.

Laguna added that IBM could also benefit from acquiring MySQL because it would give Big Blue a low end offering that could protect its flank against lower-end open source competitors nipping away at its DB2 business.

"[MySQL] could give IBM a way to maintain its high-margin products while not losing customers to these lower end offerings. Having something that is open source underneath the proprietary products is a good idea," Laguna said.

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