Sun and Open Source

Sun takes a lot of heat in the community. Some would say too much, others would say not enough. I find the situation fascinating, really… and think it’s a good look into the complex and sometimes antithetical nature of the Open Source ecosystem. I don’t think it’s disputable the Sun has done a ton for Open Source. They have deep roots in OSS and to this day contribute a ton of code and mindshare. They have strayed off the path a bit at times and I think part of the uneasiness has to do with their waffling opinion on Linux. To me, it seems like much of this is in the past, but reputations die hard. One thing that is not in the past, and is the current cause of some consternation, is that Sun likes to control projects more then some in the Open Source world are willing to tolerate. The did it with Java, OOo and now OpenSolaris. Roy Fielding recently stepped down from the OpenSolaris project due to this and I think he brings up some valid concerns. I also think much of the problem Sun has in this regard isn’t how they act, but is around their messaging. As Roy mentioned in his email, companies like MySQL were able to adopt products that are truly Open Source with a decision making structure that was mostly controlled within the company. Not many people gave MySQL heat about that, because they were quite up front and transparent about it. Sun is not always so. My next point, as you may have guessed, is that with the recent MySQL AB acquisition, Sun has the opportunely to study and learn from the culture that MySQL was able to create. While I still have some concerns, the more I think about the deal the more I think it made a ton of sense for Sun.

While on the topic of Sun and Open Source, it would be hard to not mention the dust kicked up recently by this post. I do have some commentary, but will save it for a future post. I will say now that I do have some concerns that Sun will be tempted to push MySQL on Solaris, but I don’t think Linux support of MySQL will suffer any time soon. If you’d like some background on the Linux and OpenSolaris issue, this is a great post for you.

–jeremy

What Makes a Freedom Fighter Join a Giant? or Ten Reasons to Get Acquired

An interesting inside look on what went into the MySQL end of the acquisition decision from Mårten Mickos has recently been posted.

At MySQL there were few things we loved as much as the thought of being our own masters. We had always been contrarians and we prided ourselves with not following what we saw as outdated ideas from big companies. We made the dolphin on our logo jump surprisingly from right to left (as opposed to the typical left to right) – because we wanted it to be clear: we were not afraid to be different. We decided that people can work from home so we can hire the best and brightest anywhere in the world – not just Stockholm, Seattle or Silicon Valley. We cherished heated debates in the company – and there were many. When other companies dictated alignment, we celebrated dissonance and accepted that there could be multiple viewpoints. When others gathered their staff at a prestigious hotel somewhere in the USA, we summoned our engineers to a primitive sanatorium outside St. Petersburg, Russia. We did it our way. At times it was difficult –even chaotic, but we loved it even more for that reason. It created a passion and strength inside the company.

So why did we change our minds in a few short weeks? What made us think that Sun Microsystems would be a good home for us? What made this better than an IPO? Why did we abandon our revolution for a stable nation? What was it in Sun Microsystems that attracted us? And, most importantly, will we be able to maintain the passion that has driven us to where we are today?

Let me start in a typical Scandinavian contrarian way: Perhaps we will be unable to maintain our passion within Sun. And at the most extreme, perhaps we should not have done this deal. The reality is it will take many years before we can judge this decision to know if it was the right course.

But let me also state that there is probably no better place for this “dirty dozen” (or perhaps “fanatical four hundred”) of MySQL than inside Sun Microsystems.

I’ve always really liked and had a huge amount of respect for both Mårten and the MySQL founders. They built a great company and a great product, and have been open and transparent the entire time. How this acquisition pans out has huge implications for Open Source IMHO. MySQL AB was on target to become one of the largest pure play Open Source companies in the world. With more and more Open Source companies being scooped up by traditional players and consolidators, it remains unclear to me how many pure play Open Source companies we’ll see in 5+ years. I think the ramifications of that are still not well understood (or given enough attention for that matter). Only time will tell.

–jeremy

Sun acquires MySQL II

A quick follow up to a previous post. The buzz created by the Sun acquisition announcement is still going strong. I’m still digesting the news and doing additional reading, but here are some interesting items I’ve run across.

Other Open Source database participants have been quite positive about the news. Josh Berkus, a member of the PostgreSQL Core Team and a Sun employee, was quick to welcome Brian Aker and the MySQL team aboard. You can see comments from Andy Astor, of EnterpriseDB here. This is friendlier stuff then you typically see in the proprietary world. I think that’s a function of both Open Source being different and us still being quite early on the adoption curve (where a rising tide is seen as lifting all boats).

From Matt: Guess how long the entire process, beginning to end, took? Five weeks. From the first phone call to today’s announcement, the deal took five weeks. That time frame is absolutely astounding. With a company the size of Sun, getting a simple partnership deal done usually takes more than five weeks. To have an acquisition of this size pulled off (Sun spent about 36% of its cash on the deal) is a testament to how bad they wanted a deal done.

Here’s a quick comparison to the BEA deal by Savio:
First off, kudos to Sun for valuing MySQL at this price. The deal represents ~36% of Sun’s Cash & Cash Equivalents (of $2.7B) on hand at the end of their last quarter (Sept. 2007). But considering how cheap debt is these days, Sun could probably fund a portion of the deal through cheap debt.

A reader commented on BEA and MySQL being founded in the same year, but BEA being sold for 8x more than MySQL. True, but BEA has ~$1.5B in revenue versus ~$60M for MySQL. When you take revenue into account, MySQL secured 3x more in acquisition price for every dollar of revenue than did BEA. OSS vendors must be sleeping with dollar signs in their eyes tonight….

Here’s a Q&A with Stephen O’Grady:
Q: So does that make this “We’re the Dot in the Dot Com,” the sequel? With the commensurate crash to follow?
A: Some would contend that’s the case, yes. Particularly a couple of members of the media we’ve spoken with. And of course it is possible that the model propping up Google’s immense valuation and those similar to it will prove to be similarly illusory. But somehow I doubt it. The fact is that the Google’s of the world have made real what Sun itself could not: a network that is, in fact, the computer. And the Google’s of the world, far more often than not, run on MySQL. Via this single acquisition, Sun’s made itself a relevant vendor in a space that very few, if any, of the larger commercial systems suppliers can play in.

Whether you agree with the valuation or not, YouTube sold for $1.6 billion, and consumed virtually no software from any of the major vendors. If that acquisition was to take place today, they would have been buying from Sun.

Not everyone is seeing this as a positive. Jay worries about the large company syndrome and Ben wishes Sun would focus on their core. Sun’s poor history with acquisitions seems to come up a lot, but none of those were under Schwartz.

Some additional comments:

* The MySQL founders are happy with the deal. That’s a good thing.
* Who this impacts and who else could have pulled off an acquisition seem to be popular questions. I’d say the latter is a fairly small list: Oracle, Red Hat, IBM and maybe Google or Yahoo. Who it impacts remains to be seen, but I think the implications will be pretty far reaching.
* The possibly Google/Yahoo above brings me to an angle that I haven’t seen much commentary on. I’d expect Sun to offer some kind of “MySQL in the cloud” service that could be one component in a service offering that competes with Amazon an its S3/EC2/SimpleDB offerings.
* It’s clear that Sun has made a significant investment in the M from LAMP here. I continue to question how they feel about the L in LAMP though. This seems to be one of the biggest sticking points people have. Will MySQL focus less on Linux (which leads both MySQL sales and downloads by far, from what I understand) and more on Solaris? Will Sun push Solaris while selling MySQL? More questions than answers on this one, so we’ll have to wait and see.
* I’d expect a couple long time MySQL employees to cash out after this and quickly found some very interesting startups based on what they did at MySQL AB.

That’s all for now.

–jeremy

Sun acquires MySQL

Sun made a huge announcement today. They are acquiring MySQL AB, for roughly $1,000,000,000. From Jonathan:

But the biggest news of the day is… we’re putting a billion dollars behind the M in LAMP. If you’re an industry insider, you’ll know what that means – we’re acquiring MySQL AB, the company behind MySQL, the world’s most popular open source database.

You’ll recall I wrote about a customer event a few weeks ago, at which some of the world’s most important web companies talked to us about their technology challenges. Simultaneously, we gathered together some of the largest IT shops and their CIO’s, and spent the same two days (in adjoining rooms) listening to their views and directions.

Both sets of customers confirmed what we’ve known for years – that MySQL is by far the most popular platform on which modern developers are creating network services. From Facebook, Google and Sina.com to banks and telecommunications companies, architects looking for performance, productivity and innovation have turned to MySQL. In high schools and college campuses, at startups, at high performance computing labs and in the Global 2000. The adoption of MySQL across the globe is nothing short of breathtaking. They are the root stock from which an enormous portion of the web economy springs.

But as I pointed out, we heard some paradoxical things, too. CTO’s at startups and web companies disallow the usage of products that aren’t free and open source. They need and want access to source code to enable optimization and rapid problem resolution (although they’re happy to pay for support if they see value). Alternatively, more traditional CIO’s disallow the usage of products that aren’t backed by commercial support relationships – they’re more comfortable relying on vendors like Sun to manage global, mission critical infrastructure.

This puts products like MySQL in an interesting position. They’re a part of every web company’s infrastructure, to be sure. And though many of the more traditional companies use MySQL (from auto companies to financial institutions to banks and retailers), many have been waiting for a Fortune 500 vendor willing to step up, to provide mission critical global support.

In addition to the current MySQL offerings, Sun is unveiling new global support offerings. This has huge implications, not only for Sun and MySQL… but for Open Source in general. MySQL AB was one of the hottest commercial Open Source companies. Almost everyone thought they were headed for a 2008 IPO. Sun was already one of the largest contributors of Open Source in the world, but this puts them at the epicenter of the LAMP stack. How this will impact their on again off again relationship with Linux remains to be seen, but I’m already seeing promises that this acquisition will not impact MySQL support on non-Solaris platforms.

As you can imagine, the blogosphere is buzzing due to this announcement. I’m still digesting the news and doing as much research as I can, but the real implications of this will not be fully known for some time. I’d like to congratulation the entire MySQL AB team. Monty and David have built not only a wonderful product but a fantastic company. This is well deserved. Marten has been an exemplary Open Source CEO. Congratulations should also go to Sun. They continue to prove their dedication and understanding of Open Source. This is a fantastic pickup for them and I think it could be a great fit.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this once I have a chance to do more research and think about it further, but in the meantime here is some additional reading:

Zack Urlocker
Q&A from kaj
Press release
Tim O’Reilly

–jeremy

Update on the Sun/NetApp ZFS patent litigation: Change of venue, prior art

A follow up on some previous coverage. It looks like Sun has provided an update to Matt about the pending ZFS litigation.

As of Friday, December 14, Sun has filed reexamination requests for three Network Appliance patents as part of its response to a lawsuit initially filed by Network Appliance against Sun on September 5, 2007. This follows the agreement last month with Network Appliance to transfer Network Appliance’s lawsuit from Texas and litigate it along with the case Sun filed in California. The motion to transfer was filed on November 21 and the cases are now assigned to a mutually agreed upon judge. With each company being headquartered in northern California and the majority of inventors and innovation in dispute originating in California, it makes sense for this case to be litigated in this jurisdiction. We are pleased that Network Appliance agreed to Sun’s request and retracted its imprudent choice of venue for this litigation.

Reexams have been filed on the NetApp WAFL patents that purportedly cover concepts such as copy on write, snapshot and writable snapshot. There is a significant amount of prior art describing this technology that was not in front of the US patent office when it first examined these patents. In just one example, the early innovation by Mendel Rosenblum and John Ousterhout on Log Structured File Systems, applauded in a NetApp blog as being inspirational to the founders, was not considered by the patent office in the examination of the NetApp patents.

Sun is committed to protecting innovation and the open source community against this attack. The reexamination of three Network Appliance patents seeks to ensure the open source community continues to have access to technology that Network Appliance did not invent. Sun is also in the process of identifying other Network Appliance patents to be reexamined. We continue to receive support from the open source community in terms of prior art and appreciate the community response to protect innovation. We would like to thank those who have sent in relevant art that has been used in connection with the reexamination requests.

Sun’s actions are in response to the suit Network Appliance brought against the company to forestall competition from the free ZFS technology. Sun’s earlier filings include patent counterclaims against the entirety of Network Appliance’s product line, including the entire NetApp Enterprise Fabric Attached Storage (FAS) products, V-series products using Data ONTAP software, and NearStore products, seeking both injunction and monetary damages.

Sun is confident in our patents and claims against Network Appliance, and pleased with the direction of our case. To view more information, including the filings, visit Sun’s Open Source Community Support page.

I don’t see any response to this from NetApp yet. It did seem odd that the suit was filed in the patent friendly Texas jurisdiction, when both companies are located in California. I’ll post additional updates on this topic as the arise.

–jeremy

Solaris and Dell

Jonathan recently announced a partnership with Dell on his blog.

First, we announced a key relationship with Dell, through which they’ll be OEM’ing Solaris, and directly supporting customers running Solaris on Dell systems. Second, we announced our free/open source virtualization roadmap, starting with xVM and xVM OpsCenter, our hypervisor and management product set.

Truth be told, the relationship with Dell has been in the making for a while – I flew down to Texas last year to have dinner at his house (with a fortuitous 180 knot tail wind – sadly, I had return the same night with a 180 knot headwind). If you’re thinking, “hm, didn’t Sun’s relationship with Intel start with dinner, too?” you’re picking up on a theme – great partnerships start with a meal, in my book. At that dinner, we began discussing ways we could work together. Since then, we’ve both heard from a ton of customers that they’re running Solaris (and Sun Software, broadly) on Dell systems – and they’d like us to work together to make the experience a seamless one. It’s important to note, of the Solaris instances distributed into the world, roughly a third run on Dell – that’s certainly motiviation for us both to work together.

I was quite surprised to read that 1 out of 3 Solaris instances run on a Dell machine. Maybe that’s why Joyent just signed the deal that they did. On the surface, though, this seems like a somewhat odd partnership. While Sun may be trying to pickup some software services revenue, they are still a hardware company. It seems that Forbes picked up on this:

Nevertheless, the deal is a turnabout for the two companies. Sun and Dell have been clawing at each other for more than a decade. Last year, Sun grabbed back the No. 3 spot in the server market from Dell.

Yet the two companies still do less business, put together, than HP alone. In the second quarter of this year, IBM sold $4.1 billion worth of servers, while HP sold $3.7 billion, Sun sold $1.76 billion and Dell $1.5 billion.

Now, by buddying up, Dell and Sun are trying to wring sales out of customers who are going in different directions. If you’re putting Solaris on Dell machines, you’re either already a Sun customer–and you’re tiptoeing away from the Santa Clara, Calif.-based software and server vendor–or you’re a Dell customer fooling around with heavy-duty Unix, and chances are you’re looking to trade up to bigger servers than Dell now sells.

If you look at things on a longer timeline it makes a bit more sense. Sun is trying to move down into smaller markets and Dell is trying to move up into bigger ones. They are both fighting competitors that are significantly bigger. Whether the strategy works remains to be seen. I’m still not sure that the Sun corporate culture will allow them to play well in the commodity sandbox. They are used to be innovative and interesting. High volume low margin products that compete on price just doesn’t seem their style. One thing is clear, however. Sun is doing everything in their power to turn Solaris into a true competitor to Linux. That should be good for everyone.

–jeremy

Some LinuxQuestions.org Stats

Every once and a while I like to post a quick update that includes some stats about LQ. Here are a couple for the month of October 2007.

Browsers
* A total of 277 distinct Browsers visited LQ last month. Those with more than 1%:

Firefox 61.99%
IE 24.14%
Mozilla 5.50%
Opera 4.29%
Konqueror 2.18%
Safari 1.53%

Operating Systems
* A total of 23 distinct Operating Systems visited LQ last month. Those with more than 1%:

Windows 52.99%
Linux 43.09%
Macintosh 3.10%

Browser and OS combo
* The top 5 Browser/OS combos are:

Firefox / Linux 33.24%
Firefox / Windows 26.66%
IE / Windows 23.84%
Mozilla / Linux 5.33%
Opera / Linux 2.30%
Konqueror / Linux 2.30%

RSS feed
* The RSS feed with the most subscribers is LQ Latest Threads. RSS readers with more than 1%

Google Feedfetcher 77%
Google Desktop 10%
Firefox Live Bookmarks 3%
Firefox Live Bookmarks (Version 1) 2%
Bloglines 1%
MyYahoo 1%

Random
* 95.51% of visitors had Java support
* 88.29% of visitors had Flash support
* 97% browse with a screen resolution 1024×768 or greater

LQ is certainly not representative of the web as a whole, but interesting nonetheless. Enjoy.

–jeremy

Sun Sues NetApp: Says "You Cannot Unfree What Is Free"

Dave Hitz, Founder and EVP at NetApp, has responded to a post made by Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz. Here’s his conclusion:

Jonathan’s claim that “you cannot unfree what is free” sets a very dangerous precedent. It says that you can steal anything, as long as you open source it afterwards. That can’t be right! I do understand that many open source proponents argue there should be no legal protection at all for information. “Information wants to be free.” But even if Jonathan believes that, he ought to wait until the law changes before taking Sun down that path.

One of the most important rules of open source is that you must only give away things that belong to you. If protected information does leak into open source, it will probably live forever in the web, but that isn’t the issue. To me, the issue is that large corporations should stop making a profit on protected information that doesn’t belong to them. That’s what we’re asking here.

Now, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t even play one on TV. I find it hard to believe that Sun ripped off code from someone and then Open Sourced the product so everyone could see the violation. Anything is possible I guess, but that doesn’t seem rationale. What’s interesting to me here is that both CEO’s are discussing this issue on their respective blog, in very a human tone and with comments enabled.

–jeremy

ZFS Puts Net App Viability at Risk?

It’s good to see a tech company acting sanely when it comes to litigation. A few excerpts from Jonathan Schwartz’s Weblog:

About a month ago, Network Appliance sued Sun to try to stop the competitive impact of ZFS on their business.

I can understand why they’re upset – when Linux first came on the scene in Sun’s core market, there were some here who responded the same way, asking “who can we sue?” But seeing the future, we didn’t file an injunction to stop competition – instead, we joined the free software community and innovated.

One of the ways we innovated was to create a magical file system called ZFS – which enables expensive, proprietary storage to be replaced with commodity disks and general purpose servers. Customers save a ton of money – and administrators save a ton of time. The economic impact is staggering – and understandably threatening to Net App and other proprietary companies. As is all free innovation, at some level. So last week, I reached out to their CEO to see how we could avoid litigation. I have no interest whatever in suing them. None whatever.

Their objectives were clear – number one, they’d like us to unfree ZFS, to retract it from the free software community. Which reflects a common misconception among proprietary companies – that you can unfree, free. You cannot.

Second, they want us to limit ZFS’s allowable field of use to computers – and to forbid its use in storage devices. Which is quizzical to say the least – in our view, computers are storage devices, and vice versa (in the picture on the right – where’s the storage? Answer: everywhere). So that, too, is an impractical solution.

We’re left with the following: we’re unwilling to retract innovation from the free software community, and we can’t tolerate an encumbrance that limits ZFS’s value – to our customers, the community at large, or Sun’s shareholders.

So now it looks like we can’t avoid responding to their litigation, as frustrated as I am by that (as I said, we have zero interest in suing them). I wanted to outline our response (even if it tips off the folks at Net App), and for everyone to know where we’re headed.

So we have a CEO that, even faced with being sued is trying to personally reach out and avoid litigation. Kudos. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t work out, but it’s great to see how much Jonathan groks Open Source. So where are things headed?

Third, we file patents defensively. Like MySQL or Red Hat, companies similarly competing in the free software marketplace, we file patents to protect the communities from which innovation and opportunity spring. Unlike smaller free software companies, we have one of the largest patent arsenals on the internet, numbering more than 14,000 issued and pending globally. Our portfolio touches nearly every aspect of network computing, from multi-core silicon and opto-electronics, to search and of course, a huge array of patents across storage systems and software – to which Network Appliance has decided to expose themselves.

And to be clear, once again, we have no interest whatever in suing NetApps – we didn’t before this case, and we don’t now. But given the impracticality of what they’re seeking as resolution, to take back an innovation that helps their customers as much as ours, we have no choice but to respond in court.

So later this week, we’re going to use our defensive portfolio to respond to Network Appliance, filing a comprehensive reciprocal suit. As a part of this suit, we are requesting a permanent injunction to remove all of their filer products from the marketplace, and are examining the original NFS license – on which Network Appliance was started. By opting to litigate vs. innovate, they are disrupting their customers and employees across the world.

In addition to seeking the removal of their products from the marketplace, we will be going after sizable monetary damages. And I am committing that Sun will donate half of those proceeds to the leading institutions promoting free software and patent reform (in specific, The Software Freedom Law Center and the Peer to Patent initiative), and to the legal defense of free software innovators. We will continue to fund the aggressive reexamination of spurious patents used against the community (which we’ve been doing behind the scenes on behalf of several open source innovators). Whatever’s left over will fuel a venture fund fostering innovation in the free software community.

NTAP is down about 3% so far today. It should be interesting to watch how this unfold, not only for NetApp clients but also for its ramification for Open Source.

–jeremy

Sun Open Source "summit"

Sun continues to be less schizo about Open Source and recently gathered media and employees at their main campus for an Open Source “summit” briefing.

Cited were improvements like a binary release of OpenSolaris and plans for dynamic scripting support in Sun’s Java Virtual Machine. Executives from throughout the company met with the media at Sun’s Santa Clara, Calif. headquarters campus for an open-source “summit” briefing.

“We have so many people who work on open source inside Sun,” that they must be brought together for an annual conference, said Simon Phipps, chief open-source officer at the company.

Project Indiana is something I find particularly interesting. Where Sun goes with it is something I’ll be watching closely. The implications of having two solid Open Source operating systems with real traction are significant. That’s not to say that the BSD’s for instance aren’t solid (in fact, they’re rock solid), just that none of them have seen wide mainstream adoption. It’s also good to see that 96 percent of Java code has been cleared for Open Source use. That should mean that a public release is well on its way.

–jeremy