Code modification: the open source database straw man

It is interesting to read RedmondDeveloper News’s take on Oracle’s attitude to open source this morning, especially this paragraph quoting Monica Kumar, Oracle’s senior director for Linux and open source product marketing:

“”We haven’t seen our customers asking for open source databases,” she told me. “Not many customers are interested in looking into the code and mucking around with it, and making changes to it. All they care about is ‘give me the best support, give me the lowest price of entry’.” For that Kumar pointed to Oracle Express.”

It is difficult to disagree with the second part of Monica’s statement. Cost savings are routinely cited as the biggest driver for open source database adoption, while the lack of robust support is the biggest barrier to open source adoption.

Certainly these were the findings of our survey of executives responsible for database purchasing, details of which were published in our recent CAOS report “Turning the Tables? – The impact of open source on the enterprise database market” (more details here).

However, the first part of Monica’s statement is a straw man that we also addressed in the report – specifically in Section 5.6 “Who wants access to code anyway?”:

“The open source database vendors themselves admit that few customers actually want to view or modify the code,” we stated. “It is worth noting, however, that the third most important reason for deploying open source databases, according to the survey results, was avoiding vendor lock-in.

“This freedom from lock-in is a benefit of open source that the Express products cannot replicate,” we added. “In fact, they could actually be seen to do the opposite…. Proprietary vendors insist that this is not the case, and that the Express products provide freedom and flexibility equal to that of the open source products. They are advised to invest in articulating the relative benefits and use cases of the Express products.”

I also tackled this issue back in December, noting that for customers that understand the value of open source, access to code is important whether they want to modify it or not, for the following reasons:

* Open source adopters understand that it the open source model creates, at least in theory, a contestable model for support and services, freeing them from lock-in.

* They also understand that open source code increases the potential for innovation. Even if they don’t want to modify the code themselves, they can pay someone to do so to make it better suit their requirements.

* They are also reassured that should the vendor in question go belly-up or be acquired, the code will live on an continue to be developed by the community.

One of the key findings of our report was that open source database adoption has been widespread but shallow (the “glass half empty” finding). However, we also noted that open source database adoption will continue to grow, and that “the Internet application space… has been more or less ceded to the open source databases”.

It is no wonder Oracle hasn’t seen customers asking for open source databases – it has been busy looking the other way. We also advised that proprietary vendors need (among other things) to be aware of the open source competition, pay close attention to the service and value they provide to existing customers, and avoid arrogance. The last of those could be the most difficult.

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#1 Code modification: the open source database straw man | Guide Open Source on 04.03.08 at 7:19 am

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#2 Open Source Unleashed on 04.03.08 at 12:44 pm

Towards more progressive open source …

I found Oracle’s statements on open source, tendered at the Linux/Open Source on Wall Street conference, intriguing to say the least. I’ll begin by making it clear that I don’t doubt the veracity of the database giant’s experience with its…

#3 jkl on 04.04.08 at 9:43 am

The best thing proprietary database vendors could do to compete with open source database systems is release (and support) their client libraries as open source. This would allow compilation on more free operating systems and integration with various package managers.