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Oracle would be smart to love Sleepycat

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With the dust settling on Oracle's Sleepycat Software acquisition, attention has focused on the future open source developers and products can expect in the closed source camp.

Former Sleepycat chief executive Mike Olson has said employees of open source companies and developers supporting their software tend to get itchy when closed source companies buy them, especially when they are rivals.

Olson, speaking during an Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) panel on mergers and acquisitions last week, said it was important for buyers to maintain "trust". He piped up during an OSBC debate where one speaker said that those who buy open source ISVs worry that engineering teams will leave once the buyer takes over, and be able to form their own rival company because the product's code is open.

Olson, now an Oracle vice president, said: "I can say from the other side of the table... our community and employees are concerned about what the buyers intend, and what's going to happen to the software going forward.

"If you intend to deliver a community, you need to pay attention to maintaining the trust and enthusiasm. Don't overlook that," Olson said, in what sounded like a warning to his new boss.

Oracle bought Sleepycat to make headway in the embedded database market and with the community of open source developers. Commenting on further open source deals, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said: "Rather than fight this open-source trend, we think it's important to figure out ways to make it work to our advantage."

Oracle launched its own database for embedded systems last October, but - critically - this lacked buy in from open source developers. By contract, MySQL - whose bread and butter is embedded deployments - is used by nearly 50 per cent of developers.

Oracle has already taken one step to undermine MySQL with last year's purchase of InnoDB, maker of an advanced storage engine used by MySQL. While Oracle has committed to continue development of InnoDB, the deal has caused ripples as developers seek alternatives that mean their fate is not tied to Oracle's good will.

Will Oracle use Sleepycat to undermine MySQL, by phasing out development? Sleepycat has provided MySQL with the Berkeley DB transactional storage engine.

Well, two things are likely to see Oracle preserve Sleepycat, and they both have everything to do with Sleepycat's large customer footprint.

Sleepycat claims 200m deployments with customers including Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, Amazon and Google. That's a large base of developers now working towards the greater good of Oracle by building and maintaining Sleepycat's Berkley DB - and the applications that run on top of it. Secondly, that's a huge opportunity in services and support that Oracle can monetize almost immediately.

In an attempt to demonstrate Oracle's good intentions, Olson said the company would continue to produce the Berkley DB, XML Edition and Java databases. He said Sleepycat's board have been involved in a "significant effort" to maintain the trust and enthusiasm of the open source developer community. ®

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