MySQL and Sun
Sun Microsystems wants to acquire MySQL AB for US$1Billion. Stephen O'Grady (Redmonk) posted his always excellent deal analysis on his blog. I would urge you to have a read. (It also is a great collection of the relevant URLs.) I'll fit a few extra observations around it. Jonathan's blog post sets the tone for Sun, while Zack's post sets the MySQL perspective straight. But first, congratulations to Monty Widenius and David Axmark for their original vision, and to Mårten Mickos, Zack Urlocker, and Brian Aker and the rest of the team that has built so much value into MySQL AB. Congratulations also to Sun for having the vision to acquire MySQL.
Christensen is the first to point out in his presentations that what he originally called “disruptive technology” in The Innovator’s Dilemma was later observed to be a “disruptive business model” by Andy Grove during a presentation at Intel. (The book had already gone to print, and so we now have loads of technology companies running around thinking their technology is more important than their business models.)
Christensen models demonstrate that a disruptive business model generally begins with an inexpensive “inferior” technology offered at a lower price in a different margin business model that enables customers either to do something they’ve never been able to do or to avoid the expensive control point. The “inferior” technology matures as the business grows and eventually the business grows into mature markets (i.e. the business model is disruptive). Think Linux from undergraduate project in 1991 to the IBM and Red Hat/MSDW Wall Street keynotes at LinuxWorld in 2002. So too with MySQL.
Oracle hammered away at the message that MySQL was missing key features high-end relational databases needed to support mission critical applications. But MySQL is the Web’s database. It was created with a different vision and goal in mind, and enabled an entirely new group of customers to make it the “M” in LAMP. It is gaining the features needed to eventually allow it to be an Oracle replacement, but that isn’t the goal today, nor has it been the business model. This means that any way Oracle executives try to measure the database (transactions, scale out, etc.) or the company (units, revenue, etc.) will leave them scratching their heads. To Oracle’s credit, they quickly understood that it isn’t that MySQL is free or open source software that’s their [future] problem but the business models around it that are disquieting, and so adjust their rhetoric accordingly.
I raised questions about cultural mixing when Red Hat acquired JBoss, but I think it is less critical this time or rather my questions about the processes and values with respect to customers will be less of an issue. MySQL should be a separate enough line of business for the foreseeable future.
I think Stephen’s analysis from the Sun angle is perfect. Sun continues to evolve its solution to customers to enable it to be the heart of the Web. Owning a word in the customer’s mind is the pinnacle of marketing excellence. But complex network computing solutions aren’t quite as simple as “Kleenex”, “Xerox” or “Escalator”.
IBM evolved to be a company that offered their customers all the technology choice AND the expertise to knit it together into a coherent unique customized solution. It doesn’t matter how imperfectly true that statement may or may not be -- but rather what customers perceive it to be. That doesn’t mean IBM isn’t happy to push an IBM-centric technology agenda, but it’s the customer relationship that’s important (since they’re the people with the money and the choice) and IBM focuses on ensuring they have the breadth of product offering to best map their customers’ self-selected heterogeneous needs. They are no longer the “Selectric” company and have even evolved with the networked IT world to be more than the “mainframe” company. IBM continues to build their message around open systems, standards, and open source, which suits their customer’s heterogeneous decisions. IBM is the “data center” company.
Sun is also evolving its message and its offerings to suit their customers heterogeneous web-based applications needs. They’re building relationships with IBM, Microsoft, the Linux community, and now they’re acquiring MySQL. Sun is in a position to deliver a heterogeneous technology base to their customers’ heterogeneous needs and to shape a marketing message that began as technology slogans around “the network is the computer” and “the dot in Dot Com” into a customer centric idea like the “Web” company. That doesn’t mean they won’t meet severe competition from IBM for which idea word is more important in customers’ minds, but they’re still in the game after being counted out too many times in the past.