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Oracle support makes case for open source

SkySQL Back in July we looked at the potential impact of Oracle's ownership of MySQL, the database at the heart of migration-bound sites who want an open source alternative to Microsoft or Oracle databases. "Oracle's history of tough contracts, however, indicates that Sun's paid-only patches could become a MySQL bug -- er, feature of relying on MySQL."

We guessed right during the summer. Oracle is embracing and extending the support mantra that's spreading through enterprise vendors: support is not an optional item any longer. Prices are going up at Oracle for its small-company solutions; this week it doubled the entry-level support costs for MySQL. Industry watchers were wondering if Sun might ignore MySQL to death after Oracle acquired Sun. It's just the opposite: Oracle has decided that the open source alternative will now become a "better earner," as the gangster movie phrase goes. Support is high-profit, built to fill high pockets.

These are issues to consider for any company moving out of the known world of HP 3000 ownership. Some small-customer alternatives, acquired by larger vendors, will have stark changes waiting in the future for small companies investing in them.

The alternative to such price hikes is third-party support, while you can still get it. For MySQL users, SkySQL opened for business this summer, peopled with engineers and staff from MySQL AB, creators of the database. "Growing big business’s bottom line has once again taken precedence over ensuring that MySQL software, services and support is readily accessible to customers that need it. Fortunately, you have an alternative," the company said in an open letter this week. Unfortunately for the open source fan, even this kind of independent company is falling into the gunsights of Oracle. The latest evidence of that aim is in the courtroom next week, where Oracle's CEO is trying to make HP's new CEO testify in a lawsuit.

Leo Apotheker has only been on the job for HP since Nov. 1, but Oracle's working to get $2 billion in damages from a company once owned by Apotheker's prior employer, SAP. HP said that Oracle only wants to harrass its CEO. The offending SAP company, TomorrowNow, was already flushed from SAP by the time Apotheker took the helm. TomorrowNow was in a business familiar to HP 3000 customers, though: Providing service for products sold by much larger vendors like PeopleSoft. Oracle bought those larger vendors, and its march toward winning damages began.

The Oracle behavior is stark enough to make a case for building an IT solution out of open source software entirely, from Linux right down to the applications such as OpenBravo. With IT budgets as tight as they are in a weak economy, nobody wants to learn their support prices have just doubled because of an acquisition.

Five or 10 years ago, open source solutions were considered risky to employ in the enterprise, because nobody could vouch for support and development resources. The vendor-supplied software was a safer bet, went the old thinking, because there was revenue to make a vendor responsible for responding to trouble calls. Only "the community" could support open source.

Not only has a third-party, independent roster of companies now emerged to support open source, but those big vendors have become a wild card about support. You can't be sure when the prices will double, or their support fees will become a mandatory part of the cost of ownership. HP's already moved free patches into paid-only status, for example.

Earlier this year we made a case for working with smaller vendors whenever possibile for a smaller customer. Database alternatives are available for the migrating customer which have a steady record of relationships instead of shakedowns. At the massive SBCTC migration in Washington State, Marxmeier's Eloquence is in place, much to the satisfaction of the college collective's IT director. The HP 3000 was not considered a large-firm solution by HP; that's why other environments survived. It can serve a small company better to be partnered with capable and experienced small vendors -- companies who can appreciate the special needs of a small business.