Oracle buys Sleepycat

Oracle Corp. has acquired open-source database vendor Sleepycat Software Inc., strengthening its hand in the embedded database market and putting to rest at least one of the rumors about its plans to buy open-source companies.

The acquisition extends Oracle’s embedded database product line, which also includes Oracle Lite for mobile devices and TimesTen, which it acquired last year, for high-performance in-memory database applications.

Sleepycat’s Berkeley DB is embedded in several well-known open-source products, including the Linux and BSD Unix operating systems, Apache Web server, OpenLDAP directory and OpenOffice productivity suite.

The acquisition means customers have access to a fast, open-source database at low cost and with “enterprise-class support,” Oracle said.

Sleepycat Chief Executive Officer Mike Olsen said in a statement his company is “excited to join the world’s largest enterprise software company.” Oracle’s resources will allow it to better serve customers and the open-source community, he said.

Oracle has been rumored for weeks to be in talks to buy open-source vendors. Citing unnamed sources, BusinessWeek reported last week that the company was in talks to buy Sleepycat, Java application server vendor JBoss Inc., and PHP developer Zend Technologies Ltd.

Terms of the Sleepycat acquisition were not disclosed.

It is not Oracle’s first open-source purchase. Last year it bought Finland’s Innobase, which makes the InnoDB database engine used at the heart of MySQL AB’s database. The move was widely seen as a competitive swipe against MySQL, an Oracle rival.

The moves by software vendors to snap up open-source companies are seen partly as a way to attract additional developers, in the hope that those developers will upgrade to paid-for products for wide application deployments.

Sleepycat could also turn into a nice additional revenue generator for Oracle, in terms of subscription contracts and support services, said David Mitchell, a practice leader with U.K. analyst company Ovum Ltd.

He estimated that about 35 percent of revenue generated in the embedded database market comes from open-source products, compared to only about 5 percent in the traditional database market.

“I’d rate the traditional part of the market as very mature and with low growth rates, while embedded is doing well. So if Oracle wants to drive on the back of that growth Sleepycat’s a good company to own,” Mitchell said.

Berkeley DB is available under a free public license and also a commercial license that allows companies to resell the database in closed-source products.

Mitchell estimated there are between 200 million to 250 million deployments of Sleepycat worldwide.

“It’s a huge installed base to try to generate revenue from, but I don’t think they’re going to address that in any aggressive way,” he said.

Oracle is too smart to take steps that would make it unpopular with the open-source community, he said, agreeing with Sleepycat’s chief executive officer that the acquisition will probably be a net positive for its software’s development.

With Oracle’s track record for buying companies, it’s not out of the question they could still be in talks to buy JBoss Inc. and Zend Technologies Inc., Mitchell added. “They have an incredibly slick acquisitions team,” he said.

Sleepycat’s Olsen discussed the deal in his blog Tuesday.

“We’re joining Oracle because we believe the opportunity in embedded data management is too big for us to handle on our own,” he wrote, pointing to the variety of computer systems that have proliferated in the past decade, from Web servers to PDAs (personal digital assistants).

Each type of system offers an opportunity for data management by some form of the Berkeley DB, he wrote. Sleepycat already offers three products — Berkeley DB, Berkeley DB XML (Extensible Markup Language) and Berkeley JE (Java Edition). As part of Oracle, it will have a much wider range of products to offer customers, he wrote.

One of the original authors of Berkeley DB, Olson said Sleepycat remains committed to open source and has no plans to change the strategy now that it is part of Oracle.

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