Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Oracle users enjoy open source benefits but shy away from databases -- for now

An early Texas settler claimed that the Rio Grande was "a mile wide and a foot deep." A recent survey among Oracle database users seems to offer the same sentiment about the prevalence of open source in the enterprise.

Sponsored by MySQL and conducted by Unisphere Research, the study among members of the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG) found that, despite a heavy use of open source in some areas of operation, organizations running over half their applications on open-source software increased from 9 percent in 2006 to 13 percent in 2007. However, only one-third of the 226 respondents said they had an open-source database in production.

While slightly more than half of the respondents said they plan to increase their adoption of open source in the next year, fewer than 10 percent reported application portfolios that are supported by or interact with open-source systems.

Respondents also indicated that cost indeed seems to be a driver, with two-thirds reporting that the adoption of open source was spurred by cost savings. This compares with 57 percent citing cost as a factor in a similar study last year.

However, cost savings come at a price. Support and security continues to be concerns and seem to act as roadblocks to wider adoption. Just over half of the respondents felt that support wasn't as robust as commercial applications, and more than one-third saw security as a major stumbling block.

Tony Baer at OnStrategies has an interesting take -- and, in the process, paints a picture that will have me looking over my shoulder at Thanksgiving dinner:

By the way, did we neglect to mention that this open source survey of Oracle database customers was sponsored by MySQL? It conjures up an image of a mouse sneaking into a kitchen during Thanksgiving dinner and feasting on the scraps. In fact, that’s exactly the picture that was painted by the survey.

Open source use is wide but not terribly deep. Roughly 90% of respondents said they used open source software or were planning to, but it’s mostly for the commodity stuff sitting below the application layer where most organizations imbed their real value-add. Only 4% said they used open-source-based enterprise apps, like SugarCRM. Not surprisingly, the most popular open source offerings were the Apache web server, which happens to underlie most J2EE middle tier products like IBM WebSphere; and of course, Linux. In essence, customers look to open source for cheap plumbing that simply works.

And that certainly applies to databases. This being a survey of Oracle database users, it’s obvious that nobody’s replacing Oracle with MySQL or any of its open source cousins. But if you’ve got a satellite web app, there’s little risk – or cost – in using MySQL. Significantly, 20% of Oracle users surveyed reported having open source databases larger than 50 GBytes. That 20% is kind of a funny figure. If you’re an optimist, you’ll point to it as proof positive that open source databases are getting ready for prime time; if you’re a cynic, you’ll claim that the figure proves that they will never rise higher than supporting roles.

... Obviously, nobody dismisses the viability of open source for basic commodity tasks, but when it comes to mission critical systems, Oracle users still know whose throat they really want to choke.

Like all surveys, it represents a few answers -- 226 to be exact -- from a small niche of the IT market. That would seem to indicate caution in extrapolating the results to the entire industry.

Incidentally, the same settler who made the remark about the Rio Grande also said it was "too thin to plow and too thick to drink." How much of these results you want to swallow is up to you. The 21-page executive summary of the recent deep-and-wide study is available to members on the IOUG Web site.

In any event, I agree with Tony that open source databases are ripe for rapid growth and expand use-case scenarios. As more applications are served up as services, those service providers will be doing a lot of custom distributed infrastructure development, leveraging open source, and rolling their own functionally targeted stacks. Think of Google, Amazon, eBay and Yahoo as examples. Are they running Oracle or DB2 or Microsoft SQL Server, or are they taking a more commoditized view on databases?

We'll see more of these mega service providers using more open source databases, I suspect, though they won't talk about it. There will be more instances of database caches and subsets hither and yon, and these too will be increasingly open source. They will be tuned for their purposes, and not general purpose not enterprise-oriented. Scale, speed and cost rule.

Therefore the actual numbers of open source database licenses might be small and hard to measure, but the impact will be felt as more applications and services move to service provider models and more infrastructure customization as differentiation is layered on top of the database itself. Some folks swear by Ingres as a fine data environment, albeit open source.

And because databases are so mission critical, once comfort using open source varieties of these bedrocks of infrastructure components are reached, then a tipping point may be at hand. This may also be accelerated by moves toward Web-Oriented Architecture (WOA) and so-called Guerrilla SOA, where instances of services are virtualized on discrete runtime stacks.

Virtualization using open source hypervisors and open source databases to produce combined dynamic data serving stacks (create data capacity as you need it) also makes a lot of sense. It does mean more than what Oracle does with RAC and striping.

I made the pitch a while back on why IBM ought to buy into open source databases to spur on sales of other IBM infrastructure. It may have been premature, but the logic still has a nice ring to it. When a big provider like IBM makes open source databases strategic, as a bludgeon to its competitors (Oracle and Microsoft) and a loss-leader to other revenues, then all bets are off.