For at least the past decade (which is ages in the IT industry), the big three players in the database market have been Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft— in that order. In 2006, a Gartner database research report lumped MySQL with all the rest of the open-source database vendors at the bottom of the list, and together they held 7.9 percent of the database market. Now, Sun Microsystems’ January 2008 purchase of the rapidly growing open-source database vendor MySQL has the potential to change the database market. Some pundits question Sun’s purchase, saying that Sun won’t make any money off of open source and that the company would have been much better off purchasing an established commercial database product as a way to enter the database market. But I believe the combination of Sun and MySQL makes a development platform that the other database vendors can’t ignore.

If nothing else, MySQL is certainly a good investment for Sun. Although MySQL, the database, is in some sense free, like all commercial opensource products, it’s not completely free. MySQL, the company, makes revenue from enterprise support and MySQL management products. Overall, the MySQL market is large with an estimated eight million active MySQL installations. Plus, MySQL sales have grown at a steady, if not impressive, rate of 100 percent per year. Sun certainly sees this as a large, new customer base.

Revenue isn’t the primary motivator behind Sun acquiring MySQL. I see the MySQL purchase as a way to position Sun for the future. I think that Sun’s willingness to invest a cool $1 billion for MySQL shows that Sun considers the purchase of MySQL to be a strategic move. Although Sun is primarily a hardware vendor, it’s clear that the company is transitioning away from its proprietary hardware base. Sun recently began supporting x64 and is even offering several AMD-based servers with Windows Server 2003 as an OS option. Sun’s billion dollar baby instantly establishes the company as a major open-source database vendor, supporting open-source OSs, Windows Server, and its Solaris OS.

From the development and platform perspective, Sun’s acquisition of MySQL is a great complement to Java. Java has long been established as the preferred development language for Linux, and its cross-platform support is very appealing to many open-source developers. And MySQL, holding 49 percent of the open-source database market, is the database of choice for most Linux and open-source projects. The combination of Java and MySQL is the open-source equivalent of Microsoft’s .NET Framework and SQL Server.

So what does Sun’s purchase of MySQL mean to SQL Server and the database market in general? First, Sun’s acquisition helps legitimatize MySQL as an enterprise-capable database. Sure, MySQL has been around and is well known in the low-end of the database market, and even many big companies such as Google, Yahoo!, and craigslist.com use MySQL. Even so, MySQL has never been a real contender in the enterprise database arena. Sun’s ownership of MySQL will change that perspective immediately, although the change will likely affect Oracle more than it will SQL Server. Sun is one of Oracle’s primary hardware vendors, and owning MySQL will probably weaken Sun’s support for Oracle. MySQL will continue to offer stiff competition to SQL Server Express, although its questionable .NET integration capabilities and lack of business intelligence (BI) tools will keep it from being any real threat to the commercial version of SQL Server.