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SAP inks open-source database deal

The business application powerhouse plans to incorporate MySQL's open-source database software into some of its products, which should speed up development of the program.

Business application powerhouse SAP is tapping MySQL's open-source database software in a deal that should let the smaller company accelerate its development plans.

The move, announced Tuesday, should permit MySQL to add higher-end features to its database software within two years, compared with the four years that it was previously expected to take, MySQL chief executive Marten Mickos said.

In addition, the deal puts some pressure on established database companies such as Microsoft, Oracle and IBM in boosting an open-source competitor that could eventually be good enough to encroach onto their market.

SAP sells software to manage core operations such as accounting and inventory, products that have chiefly been popular among large companies. As part of an expansion to try to attract medium-sized customers, the German company began including , an open-source database, in some products. The software allows customers to avoid spending money on third-party databases from companies such as Oracle.

Under the technology crosslicensing agreement, MySQL will take over most of the development of SAP DB and will use that program's design as a model for improving the MySQL database. Gradually, the German software maker will replace the SAP DB with it, an SAP representative said.

MySQL, a Swedish company, will receive royalties through the deal, Mickos said. He declined to give details of the financial terms of the partnership.

In the longer term, the software could be used with SAP's flagship program, R/3, the SAP representative said.

The move could boost the fortunes of MySQL, which has a database that is good for some information storage tasks but that isn't well-suited to heavy-duty jobs with large numbers of people simultaneously using it, said IDC analyst Carl Olofson.

"They still have a ways to go in that area. SAP has some of the features they can take advantage of to mature (the MySQL database) faster," Olofson said.

Database heavyweights such as Oracle and IBM generally focus on products for large customers, leaving room at the lower end for other companies, Olofson said. "Right now, that territory is occupied by lighter-weight products from Oracle and IBM, by Sybase and Microsoft and various other companies. MySQL has ambitions to push up into that middle space, where there is still a fair amount of growth potential," he said.

The MySQL database, with a large and active developer base, should cost customers less than SAP DB. Although clients got the SAP software free, they still faced the high costs of supporting and maintaining the specialized, nonmainstream software, the SAP representative said.

Mickos likened the SAP-MySQL partnership to IBM's embrace of Linux, an endorsement and commitment that gave the operating system more credibility and a stronger developer team.

The SAP deal directly enables the Swedish software company to hire more programmers, Mickos said.

The MySQL software is somewhat different from the highest-profile open-source program, Linux. Linux is controlled by founder Linus Torvalds along with a large number of lieutenants scattered across the globe, some volunteers and some others who are paid by various companies. MySQL, while released under the same General Public License (GPL), is maintained by a single 70-person company that also sells it as a closed-source product under a different license.

Having the closed-source license permits customers--data-mining software maker , for example--to embed the MySQL database into their own products without worrying that the GPL's strictures will require them to reveal their own source code. The Swedish company offers hardware verification, prompt support, warrantees and other benefits with the commercial version.

There are several features that MySQL wants to add to its database as part of its expansion plans, Mickos said. High priorities include the ability to have thousands of concurrent users and support for very large sets of data.

The first phase in the SAP partnership will be the release of a version of MySQL that can fit in seamlessly where the SAP DB is used today. That interoperability is scheduled to arrive late in the third quarter, Mickos said.