Open Source: Good for the OS, but Not for the Database

Open Source: Good for the OS, but Not for the Database

Larry Ellison embraces Linux, but don’t expect open source databases from Oracle any time soon. (Part Two of six).

Larry Ellison [Oracle] | POSTED: 12.26.04 @15:50

Larry Ellison waxed eloquent at the Wall Street Journal’s D Conference this summer, telling interviewers Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher why he thinks Linux is the way to go. He was less enthusiastic about open source when it came to Oracle’s products, however, as an audience member found out when he asked the Oracle CEO about that very topic.

Question: Let me ask you about Linux and open source. You’ve said you’re going to support it. Obviously your products also run on Windows—

Ellison: We’re utterly promiscuous. We run on Linux as well.

Question: You’re encouraging open source and you’re encouraging Linux, but you have—what is your attitude towards MySQL, which is an open source competitor to you?

Ellison: MySQL…Google uses it, Yahoo uses it, and some others use it. It has pretty good query capabilities, but it’s not very strong transactionally. I would say that they’re not as strong from a securities standpoint or a liability standpoint or a scalability standpoint. There are a bunch of things we do much better than MySQL.


The interesting thing is that for an open source product like MySQL to get a lot of traction, they’re going to have to walk down the same road that Linux did, which is to get a lot of very large companies to support them. There is this myth that Linux was created and popularized by a bunch of guys who worked by day at hobby shops. Then supposedly they’d go home and program in Linux in their free time. But in fact, the biggest supporters of Linux are businesses like IBM. IBM is not a hobby shop. Oracle, we’re not a hobby shop. Hewlett Packard. There are huge companies supporting Linux and the open source movement.

MySQL doesn’t have that same kind of support behind it. SAP is the first large company to begin to support MySQL, but again, if you compare that landscape to the number of companies that are willing to launch Linux…there are just a bunch more companies supporting Linux. So I don’t think you can just paint with a broad brush and say it’s “open source versus not open source.” It’s “open source that has support by the technology industry.”

Question: But to the extent that Linux does get adopted more broadly—because of the backing of these non-hobby, large corporations—doesn’t it help a company with an application like MySQL to ride that wave?

Ellison: I don’t think so. I think in MySQL—actually, the most interesting open source product that nobody ever talks about is Apache. Long before Linux, there was Apache. At the time, everybody bought Microsoft’s IAS; it was the dominant web server around—85% share, something like that. And Apache just utterly crushed them. And people said, “Gee, Apache crushed Microsoft because it was cheaper.” But it didn’t crush Microsoft because it was cheap. It crushed them because Apache was much better.

What makes Linux very attractive to us is its use in data center operations. Now, if you’ve got one computer in your house or one computer in your branch office, Linux is not better than Windows. But if you have a hundred or a thousand computers in your data center, Linux (which is an open source version of Unix) is a much better operating system for a data center than is Windows. It’s much more manageable; it’s much more secure; it’s even a little bit faster.

One of the things that has made Windows attractive is that it runs on low-cost, high-performance

Intel hardware. But now, Linux takes that differentiation away from Microsoft, because it also runs on lower-cost, high-performance Intel hardware.
Audience Question: Sun is opening up Solaris. Have you thought about opening up any of Oracle’s products? Also, do you think there might be an open source threat to the database business at some point?

Ellison: I’m not sure our customers would feel comfortable if the software they were using were modified by someone whose name was listed as an addendum to their software. What happens if you’re using an open source version of the Oracle database and it breaks? Right now we have a compact with our customers—the database has to always work. You can reboot your operating system, but your database can never throw away your data. There is no piece of software with more demands on it—in terms of reliability—than the database. People get extremely upset with you when you discard their information.

This doesn’t mean that there won’t be [open source] databases. MySQL is heavily used by a lot of people. But again, it’s used mainly for queries rather than updates. It’s not used in transaction theory. It’s mainly used for searching.

Do I think there’s a threat? Not unless a number of large companies get behind it.

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