Oracle stays course with lightweight databases

Oracle has never enjoyed much respect from IT managers looking for alternatives to large relational databases. Michael Olson, the former CEO of Sleepycat Software, wants to change that.

Olson is now vice president of embedded technologies at Oracle, which bought Sleepycat in February. Oracle is making a concerted effort to move beyond the data center with products such as Sleepycat's open-source Berkeley DB embedded database; Oracle Lite, which runs on mobile devices; and TimesTen, a caching database that Oracle acquired last year. Olson spoke with Computerworld about the company's new strategy at last week's O'Reilly Open Source Convention. Excerpts follow:

What will change for Berkeley DB users under Oracle?

The biggest change is the fact that Sleepycat had 25 employees and Oracle has 56,000. Customer support used to be provided by the engineering team backed up a very small support team. About half the cases would get handled by support, with the other half sent back to [the] engineers. We expect that model to continue. But now we have a team around the globe that can take cases in local languages. Round-the-clock coverage is easier and less expensive now.

Developers will continue to interact with customers. That's one thing Larry [Ellison, Oracle's CEO] specifically said he liked about open-source -- the easy communication between the consumers and developers of software. We hope and expect that there will be no negative changes [to that process].

Users often choose Berkeley DB specifically because they don't want to have to deal with a full-blown SQL database. Does your new role feel weird?

Not at all. If you need the full power and flexibility of SQL, I used to have to turn you away. Oracle used to have a much harder time answering nonrelational requirements. Now, if you don't need SQL or ad hoc query [capabilities] but just want a lightweight, embeddable engine, Berkeley DB gives users that. It's not the case that there's no overlap among these products, but their target is different customers.

What is the development road map for Berkeley DB and the other products you oversee?

In general, we're concentrating on continuing to serve our existing niches and customers. One notable change is that because we're now part of a much larger organization, we want all the products, including TimesTen and Berkeley DB, to interoperate with others in the Oracle lineup [so they will] behave predictably if you're an Oracle DBA.

We're about to release Version 4.5 of the Berkeley DB core engine, which was already specced out [before the acquisition]. But what our much larger customer base wants now is more interoperation among the products. So that's driving our thinking.

With just 25 employees, do you think Sleepycat is helping to bring open-source values to Oracle?

I've been in the database industry since 1986. I'm well aware of the sometimes fairly negative reputation that Oracle has of being a fearsome competitor. My experience inside the company so far has been fairly good. Oracle is a company where the individual contribution matters. Moreover, there is a legacy of open-source involvement at Oracle and by its employees. We have just done a pretty bad job of talking about it.

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