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Sun could quell database hunger with Unify buy

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Sun Microsystems last week tossed the word "database" in front of numerous financial analysts and triggered a flood of speculation.

During Sun's analyst conference, the company hinted that it might be looking to acquire and then possibly open source a database. This move would round out its enterprise software portfolio, helping it compete against the likes of IBM and Microsoft. But what database would Sun buy? And how would this software stack up against similar code from Oracle or open source products such as MySQL and Postgres?

Several pundits pointed out that Sun could possibly partner with CA around its Ingres database or develop more finely tuned versions of MySQL or PostgreSQL for Solaris. Another pundit, however, proposed what seems an even better idea in December of last year.

The pundit was Paul Murphy, and the database he fingered comes from Unify.

Unify has a market cap of just over $15m, making it an easy target for Sun. As Murphy pointed out, its DataServer isn't quite as flashy as Oracle or even Postgres, but it is better than MySQL from an enterprise point of view. It scales and performs well on SMPs.

Unify might not seem like the sexiest acquisition target. It doesn't tend to come up terribly often in database discussions despite being around for decades. Its code, however, still holds up remarkably well, according to Murphy. And Unify boasts an impressive customer list.

Should Sun go out and acquire a database or partner around one, the move would mark a serious change in course for the company. Two years ago, we asked Sun's CEO Scott McNealy about the database hole.

"You know, we haven't decided that is a war we want to go fight," McNealy said at the time. "Why not let them all beat each others' brains in?"

Sun has long been one of Oracle's key partners in crime, which makes any database moves uncomfortable. Oracle, however, has not been shy about touting ever-tightening relationships with Dell and other Linux server vendors and has knocked high-end Unix systems. Why can't Sun put some heat on its partner as well and nibble at the low-end of the database market?

Sun doesn't need a product to rival Oracle or IBM on massive boxes. It needs a low-cost, low-end option to bundle with its JES (Java Enterprise System) software package on basic x86 servers. Unify could provide just that. ®

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