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When open source eats itself: SpringSource acquires Covalent

Did SpringSource get much from its acquisition of Covalent?

Ostensibly,SpringSource today announced the acquisition of Covalent to beef up its support for the Apache-sponsored project Tomcat. The problem with such thinking is that if this is the real reason, SpringSource got very little for its money.

There's no doubt that Spring+Apache is a recipe for success. In my own experience, I've seen widespread adoption of both, and often together (not the least being within the product my company, Alfresco, ships). Rod Johnson, CEO and founder of SpringSource, states:

We see Apache code being used by many of our customer accounts--the Apache Web server, Tomcat, Web services frameworks, Active MQ and a slew of other Apache technologies. We see pent-up demand for services from folks using Spring and Apache technologies.

It's unclear how an acquisition furthers this, since the best that SpringSource has acquired is a few developers associated with the project, but not the project itself.

As I've noted in the past, being the "source of the code" is the new IP in software. This angle makes a lot of sense for an "acquisition," where acquisition effectively means "hiring the core developers from a project." JBoss was the maestro at this sort of "acquisition."

But it may well be that Tomcat is pervasive enough that attempting to centralize support in SpringSource may not work. It certainly didn't work for Covalent. While Covalent had a thriving business, it was also a small (albeit profitable) business. Covalent didn't actively seek venture money and arguably could not have raised any, at least not from tier-one venture investors. It's somewhat telling that Peter Fenton, the common link between SpringSource (he's an investor) and Covalent (He invested in Hyperic, the off-shoot from the original Covalent company), invested in everything but Covalent.

This isn't to say that this was a bad move on SpringSource's part. Rod Johnson will get a profitable revenue stream from Covalent and some great developers, as well as solid management in Mark Brewer.

What he won't get is any measurable control over the Tomcat project. Did SpringSource therefore waste its money? No, but it may not have gained much, either.