Rumors Say Oracle Is Trying to Buy JBoss, Zend, and Sleepycat
Published: February 14, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em--or, rather, make 'em join you by buying 'em. Or that must be what Larry Ellison is thinking. Late last week, a story in BusinessWeek reported that database, middleware, and application software powerhouse Oracle was on the acquisition warpath again, and this time it is targeting suppliers of popular open source middleware: Zend Technologies, JBoss, and Sleepycat Software. Oracle has not, of course, confirmed or denied the rumors.
But the idea that Oracle, which has just acquired PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards, Reitek, and Siebel Systems last year, as well as numerous smaller firms, and attained the solid number two position in application software, would now set its sights on the open source software stack that is largely its main competitor is a horrifying thought to many. The open source community may be set for a large splash of cold water when they realize that the people behind many open source projects that have commercial businesses are, indeed, in it for the money, and that if Larry Ellison and Co come around with a big enough bag of money, they will sell their businesses to a company like Oracle, and perhaps sell their open source communities--which were seeking independence from goliaths like Oracle--up the river.
Nothing has happened yet, of course, but with Oracle happy to use debt to finance acquisitions and even the most popular open source projects not making very much money for the commercial entities behind them, Oracle could snap up a lot of companies for a lot less than it paid to acquire PeopleSoft or Siebel. The word on the street is that Oracle is ready to plunk down as much as $400 million to acquire JBoss, which has quickly risen through its dominant position as a provider of an open source J2EE Web application server. The JBoss platform has come out of nowhere in the past few years and now has about a third of the market--which is why a company like Oracle can't afford to let it live free. Oracle's own application server has about a fifth of the market, with IBM having about a third with its WebSphere product and BEA Systems having a little more than a quarter. The JBoss toolset, which is called the JBoss Enterprise Management Suite, or JEMS, is a complete Java and Web programming environment, and it is one of the reasons why JBoss has experienced triple-digit revenue growth last year. The company is also training thousands of Java programmers a quarter, and has vast and deep experience in Java programming--something that Oracle could put to good use. But mostly, Oracle's decision to pursue JBoss is a defensive maneuver that it can twist with PR to look like an offensive one. (Well, it is, to many, quite offensive.)
Oracle is also apparently chasing after Zend so it can have control over the open source PHP programming language, which is a quicker and dirtier environment than Java and which millions of Web sites have chosen for the creation of their Web sites and the systems behind them because, to put it bluntly, Java is just too damned complicated. Oracle is apparently ready to pay as much as $200 million to get a hold of Zend, which has also seen explosive growth in the past couple of years.
It may seem ironic that Oracle, which has been perhaps the staunchest supporter of Java for the past decade, second only to IBM, would suddenly catch the PHP religion. But the very existence of PHP demonstrates that there is a world that doesn't need any Oracle products at all. This kind of thing drives industry giants insane, and they can't stand for it. It seems likely that the U.S. Department of Justice and any other antitrust body in the world won't raise any objections to Oracle's acquiring such small companies and there are a lot of options. Still, if you like the democratic concepts of open source projects and small companies living within their means and taking on industry giants--and I personally very much like that concept--then these sorts of deals are a little tough to swallow. It is as bad as Standard Oil buying up refineries and removing competition. And I am hopeful that there are provisions in the open source licenses held by any company that giants like Oracle try to buy such that the projects can immediately fork and go one without any help from Oracle.
Oracle is also apparently interested in acquiring database maker Sleepycat, one of the many companies that have commercialized the open source Berkeley database that is the sister to the open source BSD Unix flavors. Sleepycat's software is, in fact, called Berkeley DB and it has ACID compliance, page locking (no row-level locking), and support for single-node failures, as well as a new XML data access method. Two years ago, it did not support stored procedures or triggers or ODBC or JDBC connectivity, and it still doesn't. But it is a very streamlined database for Web applications, and that is why it is interesting and useful. The rumor mill did not say how much Sleepycat might catch if Oracle buys it.
The one name that has not come up in all of this and which is the obvious target of an acquisition is database maker MySQL, one of the key providers in the so-called LAMP software stack, which is short for Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl/Python/PHP stack. The most recent iteration of the MySQL database supports triggers and stored procedures and is a lot more of a threat to Oracle than JBoss, PHP, or Sleepycat. Last October, Oracle put a damper on MySQL's party for MySQL 5 when it bought database maker Innobase, the developer of the InnoDB transactional backend that was woven into MySQL 5. Having bought Innobase and knowing that MySQL's license to the technology runs out in 2006, Oracle can keep MySQL on its toes without paying another dime.
No one ever called Oracle's top brass stupid.
Oracle's Open Source Shopping Spree, BusinessWeek Online