Speculation is rampant as to Oracle’s exact strategic goals in acquiring Innobase and Sleepycat, with more open source vendors rumored to be coming soon. Rather than try to add some nuances directly to the low-end/open-source/brand-extension/embrace-and-extend strategic discussion, I’d like to step back and say one thing:
Multi-DBMS product strategies work moderately well.
Admittedly, in the history of software there only have been a limited number of DBMS products that be regarded as huge successes, and only in one case has more than one of them belonged to the same company. But even so, history is fairly encouraging toward whatever it is that Oracle is trying to do.
IBM. IBM has had two hugely successful DBMS product lines – IMS and DB2. Since IMS and DL/1 were separate products, and there are also two significantly different versions of DB2, it’s even fair to say that IBM has had four different rather successful DBMS. And that’s not even counting acquisitions.
Informix. Shortly before it imploded, Informix got a little carried away with a multi-product strategy. It didn’t help that by claiming all the products were on a single code line, they were saying something that A. Wasn’t true and B. Nobody would have cared about if it were true. Still, the Progress-like Informix/SE was a fundamentally different product from Informix’s Oracle-competitive high-end products, and both were viable businesses. Unfortunately for Informix, when it moved successfully into the high end it defocused on the low end, and went from being a powerful #2 in the VAR market to a real also-ran.
Sybase. Sybase was once a leader with what is now called Adaptive Server Enterprise, and continues to muddle through as nontrivial also-ran. Meanwhile, Adaptive Server Anywhere is the leader in its niche. Like Informix, however, Sybase walked away from what had been a strength, which is the laptop/desktop/office OEM market, really focusing on the pervasive computing/nontraditional computer market at the expense of what was once a strong business position (e.g., as the initial big platform for Siebel’s original Sales Force Automation products).
Oracle itself. The acquisition of RDB from Digital was a major success for Oracle, in that the technology really helped the main Oracle product while the legacy RDB business tootled along to pay for itself. I think the smaller TimesTen will be a big success as well.
I think Software AG is doing OK with a multi-DBMS strategy too, but I’m a bit foggy on the details. Progress has a few very impressive references and not much else from its recent DBMS-like product acquisitions, but I’m cautiously optimistic there. That leaves Microsoft pretty much as the only single-DBMS vendor around, and I’m sure there are folks in Redmond who, because of Analysis Services or Access or something, would even dispute that.
If Oracle pursues some kind of parallel product line open source DBMS strategy, there’s every reason to think they can pull it with only moderate conflict and anti-synergy. At least, that’s what industry history seems to suggest.
And I have some thoughts as to why this is true. In no particular order, they are:
1. Developing DBMS is a hard skill – and one that’s transferable from project to project.
2. The same goes for a grab-bag of specific experience, tricks, algorithms, and so on.
3. Positioning of multiple DBMS products need not be in serious conflict. (Actually, companies do tend to screw that up a lot, which is why almost all the successes I outlined above are only partial. Maybe I’d better save a detailed discussion of that point for future postings.)