MySQL ex-CEO tells EU to let Oracle buy Sun

Mårten Mickos urges EU antitrust regulators to approve Oracle's Sun acquisition, arguing that delay hurts customers and that Oracle won't sink Sun's MySQL group.

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Former MySQL leader Mårten Mickos on Thursday urged European Union regulators to approve Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems and its MySQL database group, arguing that further waiting undermines the very competitiveness the EU is trying to protect.

In a letter to Neelie Kroes, the European Commission's commissioner for competition, Mickos said the regulators were correct to question whether Oracle buying Sun and its open-source database software would harm the market. But Mickos, who ran MySQL from 2001 until 2009, believes that the Oracle acquisition won't hurt competition--and that holding the acquisition up will:

"Every new day of uncertainty is potentially very harmful to the various businesses of Sun, reducing competition in the market. A delay in the closing of this transaction is therefore only going to work against the respectable goal that you set out to achieve when launching the probe into this acquisition," Mickos wrote in the letter. (See this separate post with the full text of Mickos' letter to the EU.)

Mårten Mickos
Mårten Mickos, surrounded by inflatable MySQL dolphin mascots. Benchmark Capital

It's not clear what effect Mickos' letter will have on the regulators, but Mickos knows MySQL's business well, and Oracle can use any help it can get in dealing with the acquisition. The U.S. Department of Justice approved the Sun acquisition in August.

Mickos, now entrepreneur in residence at Benchmark Capital, said in an interview that he no longer has anything financially to gain from the transaction. Instead, he's motivated now by trying to help the employees still at Sun--and moreover, its MySQL unit--urging rational discussion about the matter.

"I couldn't live with the fact that I'm not taking action," Mickos said.

Mickos declined Oracle's advances when MySQL was independent, but he agreed to Sun's acquisition in 2008.

In September, the European Commission said MySQL was at the heart of its investigation of the Sun acquisition:

The Commission's preliminary market investigation has shown that the Oracle databases and Sun's MySQL compete directly in many sectors of the database market and that MySQL is widely expected to represent a greater competitive constraint, as it becomes increasingly functional.

The Commission's investigation has also shown that the open-source nature of Sun's MySQL might not eliminate fully the potential for anticompetitive effects. In its in-depth investigation, the Commission will therefore address a number of issues, including Oracle's incentive to further develop MySQL as an open-source database.

Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison said MySQL competes in a different part of the database market than Oracle's existing products and that Oracle has no plans to spin MySQL off into a separate company.

Mickos summarized his argument this way:

1. Oracle has as many compelling business reasons to continue the ramp-up of the MySQL business as Sun Microsystems and MySQL previously did, or even more.

2. Even if Oracle, for whatever reason, would have malicious or ignorant intent regarding MySQL (not that I think so), the positive and massive influence MySQL has on the DBMS market cannot be controlled by a single entity--not even by the owner of the MySQL assets. The users of MySQL exert a more powerful influence in the market than the owner does.

MySQL is used to power large-scale Web sites with many servers, a role for which Oracle's back-end database software isn't suited, he argued. It's therefore in Oracle's interest to boost the MySQL business, Mickos said.

As evidence for his case, Mickos pointed to Oracle's 2005 acquisition of InnoDB, whose database engine software is used within MySQL. "Oracle increased their investment in InnoDB since that time, making MySQL a stronger player in the market," he said.

And perhaps reflecting his new role at a venture capital firm, Mickos concluded with a note about the broader effect of the EU's actions:

"If...it becomes difficult or impossible for large companies to acquire open-source assets, then venture investments in open-source companies will slow down, harming the evolution of and innovation in open source, which would result in decreased competition," he said.