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Sun closes MySQL deal, plans more open-source buys

It's "the most important acquisition in Sun's history," CEO Schwartz says of buying the open-source database company. Next: accelerated development, GPLv3 licensing.

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Stephen Shankland
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Sun Microsystems said Tuesday that it has completed its acquisition of open-source database company MySQL for about $1 billion--and now is turning its attention to other acquisitions.

"In my view it's the most important acquisition in Sun's history," Sun Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz said on a conference call Tuesday.

Sun paid about $800 million in cash and $200 million in stock for MySQL. Although it's a big open-source acquisition for the server and software company, it won't be the last, Schwartz said.

"Those companies that have built good high-integrity communities, broad distribution, and some measure of commercial success are those we're going to be interested in," Schwartz said, and there are many that fit that bill. "We believe we're a natural home to a lot of them, and we're going to be putting our balance sheet to work to make that the case."

Marten Mickos, who had been MySQL's chief executive, now is senior vice president of Sun's database group, reporting to Rich Green, Sun's executive vice president of software.

MySQL may have been Sun's most important acquisition, but it wasn't its biggest. In 2005, Sun spent a net amount of $3.1 billion to acquire StorageTek, a tape storage system maker with a large customer base and revenue stream.

Schwartz wouldn't compare the merits of the two acquisitions, but indicated that MySQL has a strong potential: "The customer base it brings to Sun measures in the millions if not the tens of millions. There are very few companies on Earth that have that capacity to create opportunity for Sun," he said.

Mickos estimated that there are 12 million instances of MySQL installed at present. It's impossible to know exactly, since copies may be downloaded for free and distributed any number of ways.

Sun still will support Derby, PostgreSQL
With the new title, Mickos will lead not only MySQL work, but also other open-source database projects that Sun supports, including Derby and PostgreSQL. Sun will continue its work with those projects, Green said in an interview.

"We fully intend to keep those programs going at the same speed as we did before," Green said. Developers want different packages for different situations, and "Sun is big enough to have more than one going at the same time."

However, MySQL is clearly the priority. For example, the sales support will be much broader than with PostgreSQL when it comes to selling MySQL support subscriptions, Green said.

"Those subscriptions will be sold by the entire Sun software sales force. We've amped up the scale and reach of the sales organization that previously was a much more limited size," Green said.

Schwartz argued the acquisition will make MySQL more palatable to big customers. "The single biggest impediment to success in the marketplace (has been) their comparative inability to provide peace of mind to enterprises that want global service and support," Schwartz said.

For his part, Mickos chose to look at the potential rivals more as allies. "I believed always the enemy is not another open-source database," he said. "We always had a good relationship with the PostgreSQL team."

PostgreSQL is often positioned as more of a traditional database package comparable to Oracle's dominant and proprietary product. MySQL, while steadily accumulating more features useful for that area, has been geared more for what the company has seen as new database usage such as new-generation Internet sites. MySQL is used at the core of Facebook, Google, and YouTube.

Mickos said Sun doesn't plan to move MySQL more toward the traditional database market. "We're following Wayne Gretzky's advice: skate to where puck will be," he said, mentioning "Web services, Web 2.0, telecom, and mobile spaces" as examples.

Faster development, and eventually GPLv3
Being part of Sun will speed development of new features such as Falcon, MySQL's project for a new storage engine used within the overall database, Mickos said. "We now get access to abilities and resources we didn't have before--scaling, performance, memormy management, input-output. That's why we hope to be able to accelerate the road map."

It won't change MySQL's multiplatform approach, though; the database runs on Linux, Windows, Solaris, AIX, Mac OS X, and many other operating systems.

MySQL is governed by version 2 of the General Public License (GPL) since 2000, but the company likely will move to GPLv3, Mickos said.

"We've been part of drafting GPLv3. We like the license. We think it's better than GPLv2 and takes care of some of its weakeness," Mickos said. "But (GPLv2) is the most successful license ever. It will take time to replace it and to move over to next generation, GPLv3. I believe we'll do it at some point, but we haven't decided on a specific point in time yet."

Update 9:15 a.m. PT: I added more details about Sun's acquisition plans. Update 10:30 a.m. PT: I added more information about Sun's acquisition history, MySQL integration details, and licensing and product plans.