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Sun`s Best Buy Ever: MySQL


Some people can’t believe Sun actually spent a billion dollars for MySQL; I can’t believe they got such a great deal.

If you believe my long-time colleague John C. Dvorak, Sun purchasing open-source database power MySQL was “perhaps the worst single event I have ever witnessed in the history of tech mergers and acquisitions.” Nonsense! This is Sun’s best deal ever.

Besides, the worst technology acquisition of all-time is still Compaq buying DEC. Let us have a moment of silence now for Digital. Sun buying MySQL, on the other hand, isn’t just a good deal, it’s a great deal.

Some observers are horrified that Sun paid a billion — $800 million in cash and picking up $200 million in pre-existing MySQL stock options–for MySQL, a company with a 2007 revenue of a mere $53 million. I think this says more about MySQL’s failure to effectively transform their open-source software and services into cash than it does about the almost limitless potential of the MySQL DBMS (Database Management System).

Look at where MySQL is already used. Almost every blog and many social networks and content management systems run with MySQL at their heart. When people talk about running Linux as an enterprise server platform, nine times out of 10 what they’re actually describing is a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl/PHP/Python) software stack.

Yes, only a few companies currently pay MySQL for support, but do you know who those customers are? MySQL’s customer list includes Google, Nokia and Yahoo. If I were a software vendor, I’d like to have those companies as my customers, wouldn’t you?

If you take a long hard look at how MySQL is used in business, here’s what you’ll see. Besides LAMP stacks, you’ll also see it being used in SOA (service-oriented architecture) and Web 2.0 applications. Enterprises, top analyst Dan Kusnetzky of The Kusnetzky Group told me long ago, buy software for one of two reasons: the operating system and associated software stack supports the applications they need or the database supports the applications they need. MySQL supports the applications that 21st century companies need.

Sun is a winner though on both counts. With MySQL, Sun can finally offer companies a complete operating system, DBMS, and software stack. Besides the already existing LAMP stack, Sun can also do well by finally revive Solaris’ flagging sales. How? By creating what I’m going to call the SAMJ (Solaris, Apache, MySQL, Java) stack.

By themselves neither Solaris nor Java has been doing that well in the enterprise market lately. Even the belated open-sourcing of both proved to be a case of too little, too late. I believe though that OpenSolaris and Java have the potential to matter much more both for the open-source community and CIOs. When you team them up with MySQL, Sun has the potential to put together a very compelling alternative to LAMP or Microsoft’s hodgepodge of servers, Live services and .NET developer stacks.

Now, Sun could blow it. Over the years, I’ve given Sun a lot of grief for going back and forth about whether they were really supporting Linux and open source and also for what was really the company’s biggest acquisition flop, its complete waste of a billion on the Linux appliance company Cobalt Networks.

This time though I think Sun has it right. More to the point, as I look at Sun over the years, I see a company that’s been at war with itself.

There was the fight between those who saw Sun as a hardware company and those that saw it as a software one. There was also the conflict between those who believed in Linux and/or open source and those who believed in proprietary software as the one true way. Over the last two years Sun appears to have settled these internal conflicts.

The winners were the software and open-source crew. Now, with one voice and the purchase of MySQL, they have the chance to show that they were right all along. I don’t see these people, some of Sun’s best and brightest, blowing their chance.

Sun’s worst move? No way. This is Sun’s best move, and certainly its best chance, to become once more a major IT power. And, at the same time, it will give corporate customers the kind of pricing and support they want and need and aren’t likely to find from Microsoft or Oracle.

A version of this story first appeared in eWEEK. >

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