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By now, you’ve probably grown pretty jaded to all the hype touting the benefits of open source. But a recent poll of members of the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG) provided some hard numbers explaining how one pillar of the market – Oracle database users – views the role and prospects for open source.

Just to clarify, IOUG is the Oracle database users group, and should not be confused with OAUG, which serves the ERP and CRM base.



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.

One of the survey’s conclusions was that customers embrace open source because it’s cheap, but that there are limits to that embrace because customers perceive that support or security are not yet at parity with established commercial offerings.

So how then to explain the fact that the series of freebie “Express” database offerings from the usual suspects – Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft – hasn’t dented open source use? If you’re only in it for the cost savings, theoretically Express should give you the best of both worlds: cheap and proven. Yet, 80% of Oracle Express users in this survey said they are still using open source databases as well. Evidently, Express users view these products as stepping stones where vendors strictly limited scalability so as not to cannibalize their core product, whereas they believe that open source vendors won’t purposely cripple their products going forward.

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.

About the Author

Tony Baer is a Senior Analyst at Ovum, covering application lifecycle, SOA, and IT Service Management. Tony is a well-published IT analyst with over 15 years background in enterprise systems and manufacturing. A frequent speaker at IT conferences, Baer focuses on strategic technology utilization for the enterprise. Baer studies implementation issues in distributed data management, application development, data warehousing, and leading enterprise application areas including ERP, supply chain planning, and customer relationship management. As co-author of several books covering J2EE and .NET technologies, Baer is an authority on emerging platforms. Previously chief analyst for Computerwire's Computer Finance, Baer is a leading authority on IT economics and cost of ownership issues.

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