“IBM may open source DB2” is the headline headline in today’s article by Tom Espiner on ZDNet.co.uk. The article is based on the interview with Chris Livesey, IBM UK director of information management. I posted a comment on the article but I figured I’d provide a more complete explanation here in the blog.

Before I get in to the details, I wanted to just reemphasize that what you are reading here is NOT an official IBM position but an opinion that is mine and mine alone.

If you follow this blog than you already know that that IBM provides a product called DB2 Express-C which follows the now typical open source business model i.e. free license to use with available optional for fee service and support. It is important to note that “open source business model” is not the same thing as “open source” product. There are many definitions of “Open Source” and I can easily start a holly war on the subject here but I don’t intend to; I am sorry if my definition of the “Open Source” does not comply with naming police requirements. In general, for DB2 to be considered open source we would have to make the source code available for download and inspection by anyone who wishes to do so and is able and willing to comply with the legal requirements of one of the commonly used open source licenses (a great subject of debate by many open source purists). It would typically also mean that IBM would be willing to receive contributions from the community in the form of code patches or even entire new modules and would not object to people creating completely new diverging branches of code. As I said before, I am playing fast and loose with the definition of the open source in an effort to explain what DB2 does or does not do.

Just to recap, DB2 is not available as open source. I can’t comment with any degree of certainty on the future but my crystal ball is not showing open source plans for DB2. Over the years, IBM has shown great commitment to the open source movement by donating its technologies to the open source communities. In the database space, for example, IBM contributed Derby to Apache. So, we do open source big time. However, we do it judiciously and specifically when we have a strong belief that open source would provide great value to the community and the industry. At the time of release of DB2 Express-C we had extensive consultations with key customers and industry analysts. The feedback we were getting (and continuing to get) was that “open source” would not be beneficial. The number of people that would be interested in seeing DB2 source code can probably counted on 2 hands and half of those are likely to be our competitors. This is not a scientifically derived measurement but a general feeling. The number of people who would actually be able to contribute code is a small fraction of that at best. On the other hand we have a number of corporate customers who are very clear that they have great difficulties acquiring open source products. Corporate procurement departments will disallow open source product acquisition because of intellectual property concerns. Even when open source is grudgingly allowed, customers are demanding “Indemnification”. Open source vendors such as MySQL had to respond by offering indemnification at (hefty?) extra charge. In the past suing MySQL was not a profitable proposition. It remains to be seen if now that MySQL is part of the SUN Microsystems, a company with much deeper pockets, this will still be the case.

What we did get a lot of input on is a desire to have a free DB2 product. Many of our customers as well as students, hobbyist and solution providers really like the ease of acquisition of the open source products i.e. no purchase orders, approvals, budgets etc. We on the other hand are very proud of our technology and want to get it in to as many hands as possible. We want everybody who ever touched XML to be able to experience the benefits of using DB2 pureXML and we don’t want barriers such as lack of approved budget to stand in the way. So, you can download DB2 Express-C, full function real DB2 and we offer for free. You can build the latest wizbang (Web 1.0 term for term for “cool”) Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 applications with XML, web services, Atom, REST, SOA, Ruby on Rails, PHP, .NET, Java (and every other acronym you can think of) and deploy it for free. And if you need 24×7 support and backing from IBM you can get low cost (same price as MySQL Enterprise Gold) optional subscription. If you are in the business of building and selling software you can even bundle DB2 Express-C as part of your solution absolutely free. Our ISVs seem to like that a lot. They can now distribute an industrial strength commercial database as part of their offering without the legal concerns yet have the key benefit of open source. What they are not giving up on is the great technology and support that IBM can deliver 24 hours a day seven days a week in any corner of the globe in the language they speak. And this support is delivered by IBM and not subcontracted to a third party. It is delivered by exactly the same team that provides support for all other versions of DB2 and has complete access in to the engineers in our labs.

To sum this up “IBM may open source DB2” is a very catchy title for an article but it really does not represent our plans for DB2. IBM has contributed to the open source before and will continue to do so I am sure. But in my opinion there is no benefit in contributing DB2 to the open source. I believe that our partners and customers, and industry overall, is much better served by the current DB2 Express-C offering as it delivers the key benefits of open source without the downside that is typically associated with the open source.

Tagged with →