IBM offers Cloudscape as open source code

IBM has found a new home for the Cloudscape database software it picked up in 2001 through its acquisition of Informix. The company plans to announce this week that it will give Cloudscape to the Apache Software Foundation, which will oversee Cloudscape as an open-source project.

IBM, which scheduled the announcement to take place at LinuxWorld, said this marks the first time it donated the source code of a full, commercial product. Although it stopped promoting Informix's Cloudscape to new customers after it acquired the company, IBM has used the software in its own products, most notably its Workplace line of middleware offerings.

"We backed away from selling it, but it got heavy use internally -- it had almost a viral effect internally," said Rod Smith, IBM's vice president of emerging technologies. "Cloudscape showed up and our developers salivated."

Cloudscape's code comprises more than half a million lines, and IBM estimates the software's value at US$85 million. IBM said its goal in releasing the code as open-source is to spur Java application development, creating new business opportunities for its infrastructure software products.

"It's amazing how many times I've looked at a Java application and someone has written their own little relational database," Smith said. "Now, people won't have to do that anymore."

Cloudscape, called Derby in its latest incarnation, is a lightweight, Java-based relational database with a footprint of just 2M bytes. It's significantly less resource-intensive than enterprise databases like IBM's DB2. Its target use is to underpin small Web sites, point-of-sale systems and departmental-level or small-business applications.

Analyst Stephen O'Grady, of RedMonk, said Cloudscape addresses an area of the database market that lacks a clear technology leader. He doesn't see it displacing robust software such as MySQL; rather, he sees Cloudscape as an alternative to lightweight products like HSQL (Hypersonic SQL) and Sleepycat Software's Berkeley database.

"I would not anticipate anytime soon that we'll see the traction behind this that we see behind something like MySQL, but on the other hand, I don't think you have to," O'Grady said. "The opportunity is there to pick up some substantial users."

Cloudscape is already in use by several of IBM's business partners, including Akamai Technologies Inc., which incorporates the database in its caching technology.

It also lives on from its Informix days in several customer deployments. Mercy Ships, an Garden Valley, Texas-based charity that operates hospital ships around the world, has used Cloudscape for years as a foundation of its IT infrastructure. Chief Technology Officer Kelvin Burton said he's unsure how IBM's open-sourcing of the software will affect his organization. Mercy Ships is already paying minimal fees for maintenance and support of the software, so having the code available for free is unlikely to affect the organization.

The main development advance Mercy Ships is waiting for on Cloudscape is synchronization functionality, an improvement IBM has been working to build into DB2 Everyplace Sync Server. After IBM acquired Informix, it continued Cloudscape's development but stripped a number of its features, like client/server synchronization, according to Burton. Mercy Ships has been stuck on an older version of Cloudscape while it waits for IBM to rebuild some of that functionality, he said.

"Assuming they finish that project and don't abandon it, we'll jump to the current version of Cloudscape," Burton said. "This move (to open source) is an interesting one. I guess time will tell where it leads."

IBM rival Computer Associates International also released one of its database products, Ingres, into the open source community earlier this year. Fresh off its SuSE Linux purchase, Novell is transitioning toward a business model emphasizing open-source products, while even GPL (General Public License) arch-nemesis Microsoft has quietly released a few of its technologies under open-source licenses.

RedMonk's O'Grady said he sees different motives and circumstances driving the various companies' open-source releases, but one widespread influence is the growing recognition that for a product on which development has stagnated, companies can benefit by tapping community resources.

In the case of Cloudscape, a product that gets heavy use internally at IBM, releasing it as open source can help extend IBM's technology stack throughout the developer community, O'Grady said. He also sees political gain in the move: "IBM needs to keep donating to the community to keep up the goodwill. That's true of any company that wants to make a big commitment to open source."

IBM plans to release a commercial version of Cloudscape later this year, which it said it will base on the Apache code. IBM expects its Cloudscape code to be available at the Web site within the next few weeks.

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