IBM, Apache Team on Open-Source Database

IBM has announced it is contributing its Java-based Cloudscape database software to the open-source community via the Apache Software Foundation, which will inspect the code and establish it as an open-source Java database to be called “Derby.”

IBM has been credited for supporting Linux and the open-source community but criticized by rivals regarding its actual scant contributions to the world of open-source code. The company said it hopes the move will spur the growth of Java applications and give rise to new opportunities for embedded databases. According to analysts, increased Java development could translate to gains for Big Blue’s WebSphere and Workstation software.

IBM said the strategy, its first commercial product donation to open source, consists of contributing more than half a million lines of relational database code worth approximately US$85 million to the Apache Foundation, which will work with IBM to establish Derby as a leading, open-source database.

The Java-based, relational database has a small, 2-MB footprint that is fully embeddable and requires no administration. Used primarily by developers who do not require an enterprise-class database, Derby is intended for small Web sites, point-of-sale systems, local data repositories and other small applications.

Need and Message

IBM director of data management software Paul Rivot told TechNewsWorld that the main reason for the open sourcing of Cloudscape, a relational database used by the company on 75 internal projects, was a need in the industry.

“We realized in the Java space, there wasn’t a full-functional, relational database,” Rivot said. “We were seeing a demand, we had a demand internally and our partners and customers poked us about it. There’s a real need and we have a very specific niche in Java.”

Rivot also said that although competitors “throw things over the wall” to open source, IBM was showing real commitment through the release and through internal use of Cloudscape.

Partnering for Community

IBM indicated it is selective with its open-source projects, but Derby made sense as a solution to a common industry problem. The company said, “If it is accepted by the community, Derby will be the only Java-based, production ready, relational database offering backed by an organization with a formal process for advancing open-source software.”

Rivot said the company needed a community to support the idea and found a receptive partner in Apache.

“We didn’t want to do it just as IBM,” he said. “[The Apache Foundation] thought very strongly this was a critical need as well.”

“By accepting Derby into the incubator, we are taking a big step forward in providing a turnkey database solution to Java application developers,” said ASF chairman Greg Stein in a statement.

Potential and Perception

Yankee Group senior analyst Dana Gardner told TechNewsWorld that the Cloudscape release, a result of IBM’s Informix acquisition, represents a Java database that has not been an area of growth. However, Gardner said the open-source move could have meaning.

“Any time a product enters open source, it has the potential to be useful,” Gardner said. “But it’s not a release that’s going to change the IT landscape by any means.”

Gardner said that although no one can doubt IBM’s financial backing of Linux and open source, the company is sometimes perceived as a user of open source rather than a contributor. He indicated there are industry hopes that IBM has more in store.

“I hope it’s just the beginning of what IBM can bring regarding community and promoting and accelerating development in an open source environment,” Gardner said.

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