Back in November of 2005, when polled on application areas that they would be reluctant to trust to open source, the following group of individuals – nearly to a person – pointed to mission critical databases:
- Gary J. Beach (Editor, CIO Magazine)
- Ameet Patel (Former CTO, LabMorgan (JP Morgan Chase))
- Don Haile (President & CIO, Fidelity Investments)
- Ron Rose (CIO, Priceline.com)
- Jamie Cash (CIO, NLG)
- Barry Strasnick (CIO, CitiStreet)
What’s changed since November of 2005? Little.
With the rare exception, most of the open source database vendors have declined to storm the castle, believing – correctly – that they were not in a position to compete effectively in such markets. Many also accurately anticipated that even if they were technically equivalent, the strategic importance of the software and the attendant risk to changes to it would preclude migrations, wholesale or otherwise.
At which point, open source database vendors had a choice: pack up the tents and head home, or attempt to capture or create new and emerging markets. Some undoubtedly chose the former, but several pursued – successfully – the latter course of action. Unable to duplicate their proprietary rivals in profit margins and revenue, they’ve instead eclipsed them in adoption.
All of which explains why I’m surprised that anyone is surprised by the 451 Group’s report on the impact of open source on the database market. The word choice is controversial and surprisingly harsh (Matt calls it a glass half empty) from the perspective of open source database vendors, but I find little to argue with in its assessment of current market conditions:
One of the key findings is that open source software has had a superficial impact on the enterprise database market in that adoption has been widespread but shallow. While open source databases have been widely deployed for Web-tier applications, there has been minimal adoption in the enterprise application tier, and adoption for enterprise applications is at this time limited to certain specific application workloads.
While I believe the above fails to acknowledge the degree to which adoption is widespread, the landscape painted is otherwise accurate, in my opinion. The impact of the open source vendors on their proprietary competitors has been undeniable – unless you think IBM and Oracle would have released free if limited versions of their products in the absence of such competition – but probably negligible from a financial standpoint.
From those that would dispute the conclusions of the report – which, it should be noted, I don’t have access to – Savio, the open source myth buster, would take away the counter-arguments that a.) revenue measurements are apples to oranges and b.) the OSS market is still young. With an argument that I only partially accept.
But while I cannot dispute the assertions regarding the current state, it seems likely that I’d draw significantly different conclusions from it than Matthew Aslett or Savio. Primarily because while I value both revenue and volume, I tend to bias towards the latter when considering long term projections, given that it’s built the largest software business on the planet.
The 451 Group’s report concludes that the enterprise applications market has been largely impenetrable to open source databases to date, and I would agree. But what is more plausible over the longer term: that EnterpriseDB and MySQL gain the technical competence to become at least adequate in the applications market? Or that DB2 or Oracle will be able to downsize for web tier deployments while preserving their margins?
If IBM’s investment in EnterpriseDB is any indication, it would seem that they’d argue the former. And I would agree with that as well.
If we’re to consider revenue as an guideline metric, as Savio requests, we must also consider opportunities ahead for revenue growth. Give closed source vendors a massive edge in the former, but then ask yourself whether open source vendors have equally sizable advantages in the latter.
Depending on how you answer that, you’ll know whether you consider the open source database glass half full, or half empty. You’ll also know whether you believe the impact of open source vendors will continue to be superficial.
Disclosure: EnerpriseDB, IBM, and MySQL/Sun are RedMonk customers, while Oracle is not.