Sleepycat CEO Says Oracle Needs To Learn About Open Source Communities

Oracle's challenge is convincing open source software backers that it's not just eliminating a database competitor.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

February 14, 2006

4 Min Read

Sleepycat Software's Berkeley DB development team and all other company employees are moving to Oracle, following Oracle's acquisition of the company and its open source embeddable database earlier this week.

"One hundred percent of the company came along with this acquisition," said Mike Olson, formerly president and CEO of Sleepycat and now an Oracle VP, on Tuesday after Oracle's acquisition of the privately held company was announced. Olson made his comments after appearing on a panel at the Open Source Business Conference.

"We had reached a point where if we continued to expand our sales force by 10% a year, we were going to miss much of the embedded database opportunity," he said.

Olson believes that Oracle, which has grown into an industry powerhouse based on its proprietary technology, is trying to understand the nature of open source communities and build approaches to them into its business models. Olson told a small audience of about 100 during a scheduled, seven-member panel discussion that "Oracle was pretty sophisticated in how they approached us. What impressed me was their deep interest in sustaining the community."

Olson anticipated that the acquisition would be unpopular with some members of the open source community, given that Oracle has little track record of support for open source projects. Even as he spoke, Olson was aware that open source developers were slamming the deal on such public forums as

"Uhhh... it looks to me like [Oracle is] purchasing their competition to either ensure it isn't developed to the point that it can be a serious threat to their own database product or to quietly change it so much that it's useless and kill the project," commented a poster to Slashdot nicknamed Slackaddict.

"The Slashdot guys are concerned. We need to demonstrate by our actions that we will keep freely distributing the product line, and we will remain active supporters of the community," Olson said.

The Oracle move does undercut one of Oracle's primary open source competitors, MySQL, because the enterprise edition of the MySQL database relies on a system like Berkeley DB. The MySQL Pro Certified Server enterprise version depends on added services from Innobase's InnoDB, notes Raven Zachary, an open source analyst with the 451 Group research firm. Oracle acquired Innobase in October.

Zachary had expected MySQL to negotiate with Sleepycat to use Berkeley DB as a substitute for InnoDB. "Now MySQL has had that rug pulled out from under them," he notes. To keep using InnoDB in its high-end MySQL Pro product, the firm will have to negotiate a license from Oracle, he says.

Olson, however, said his firm will continue to produce the same Berkeley DB 4.4, XML, and Java systems that it has in the past. Company co-founders Margo Seltzer, chief technology officer, and Keith Bostic, VP of product development, were in on the decision to sell to Oracle, and they will work to keep the Berkeley DB community intact, he said.

With its lengthening line of specialized products, including its own Oracle Lite mobile database and TimesTen in-memory high-speed database, Oracle needs to reach out to developers and get them to try its systems that are designed to be built into mobile applications and high-speed Web sites. Microsoft has consistently courted the developer community with such tools and other incentives; Sun and IBM have plowed increasing resources into open source developer groups as a way of interesting developers in other aspects of their product lines. Oracle has been a laggard in the area.

Olson said Sleepycat's experience will help Oracle TimesTen and other sales teams appeal directly to developers, instead of trying to sell to enterprise IT managers.

Berkeley DB isn't a relational database employing SQL. Rather, Sleepycat engineered special properties into an embeddable database that does things speedily that a relational system can't do. Berkeley DB stores and calls up preformed software objects, or complex sets of data, that become immediately available to an operational system, rather than be rebuilt from data stored in relational tables.

Google uses Berkeley DB for its single sign-on system to its Web site, and Fujitsu uses it to power its own search engine. Berkeley DB also finds use in telecommunications, such as in Alcatel's routers and network management system and in Mitel's VoIP system.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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