A growing headache for the database giants

Steve Hamm

Mainstream database software companies that have been watching open-source upstart MySQL in their rearview mirrors must be having some uncomfortable thoughts right about now. According to a user survey released Oct. 20 by market researcher Evans Data Corp., open-source database deployments in corporations are up 20% in the past six months, and use of MySQL is up 25%. Forty-four percent of corporate software developers surveyed said they use MySQL software. In the coming months, MySQL's growth rate could hockeystick. The company plans this month on shipping the fifth version of its software, which has been under development for 2 1/2 years. This version includes enhancements that make it capable of handling many of the jobs that are now done using expensive databases from Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft. That could put a real damper on prices and revenue growth in a $15 billion industry.

Microsoft is most vulnerable, since its 13.4% market share last year (according to IDC) was concentrated in the lower end of the market, where MySQL plays best. But Oracle, with 41% share, and, IBM, with 31%, can't be complacent. A not-so-subtle signal that Oracle gets it came on Oct. 10, when it bought Innobase Oy, a Finnish, open-source company that makes a database engine that is often used in concert with MySQL's package.

The giants know they have to have an open-source play, but they want to do it without seriously harming their core products. IBM, for instance, in May bought a tiny startup called Glucode, which sold a suite of application server software based that competed with jBoss, the open-source leader in that segment. The message: If you can't beat them, join them.

I've heard people in the open-source sphere predict that, ultimately, they'll compress $10 billion software markets into $1 billion markets. We may be seeing the beginning of that.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.