If you have a good memory, you might recall a 2003 research paper from Goldman Sachs called “Fear the Penguin”:
The rise of Linux should have significant consequences for IT vendors
In our view, Linux has evolved into an enterprise-class operating system that we believe will have a significant and lasting presence on the IT landscape. Its continuing emergence will likely cause considerable changes in the enterprise IT vendor ecosystem.
Most see enterprise Linux as an “edge” story; we see it in the data center
Many observers confine Linux’s enterprise opportunity to the market for low-end “edge” servers such as file, print, Web, and e-mail servers, but we are confident that the technical developments and market forces are in place for it also to become the dominant O/S on the higher-end servers of the enterprise data center, where mission-critical functions are run and the lion’s share of IT spending occurs. I
n particular, we believe that enterprise customers will use Linux primarily to take advantage of lower-cost, higher-performance Intel-based servers and avoid technology lock-in situations. As a result, we believe the Linux-on-Intel model will displace the existing paradigm of premium-priced proprietary systems based on Unix operating systems and RISC processors.
No magic bullet for Linux investing—use the “open stack” as a framework
We do not believe that there is only one company that will succeed with Linux. Rather, we believe the positive impact will be spread over the vendors in an “open stack” of technologies that Linux facilitates. We believe the emergence of Linux will most directly benefit independent PC semiconductor companies (Intel and AMD) and Intel-based server businesses (Dell) while having a mixed impact on proprietary systems companies (Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun Microsystems).
It should also benefit “open” infrastructure software vendors such as BEA Systems, BMC Software, Oracle, and Veritas at the expense of infrastructure software companies with proprietary solutions, though it may negatively affect overall software pricing at the same time. Although we believe that Red Hat is well on its way to establishing a definitive standard for enterprise Linux, we also believe it is primarily a service provider and that it should be valued as such.
This was well ahead of its time, at least as far as analysts were concerned - the free software world, of course, had been saying the same stuff for a years. To his credit, the person who wrote these words, Thomas P. Berquist, put his money – or at least his career – where his mouth was, and later joined the open source database company, Ingres, as CFO.
When I met up with him yesterday I had forgotten all this backstory, but it goes a long way to explaining why his comments on the state and future of enterprise open source in general, and of Ingres in particular, were more interesting and compelling than the usual cheerful propaganda that companies generally serve in order to paint their prospects in the rosiest of hues.
Berquist's vision was still rosy, at least in parts. He began by describing in graphical detail how the lights are going out across America – literally, as entire businesses and residential areas shut down completely. But he used that, and the detailed problems in the financial world, as a springboard for an upbeat prediction about the uptake of open source and Ingres.
The logic is a familiar one: that companies must somehow reduce their costs without reducing their operational capability to earn money in the future to get them out of their current hole. The circle is squared, according to Berquist, by switching from expensive proprietary software – for example Oracle – to much lower-cost free alternatives – like Ingres, choosing a name totally at random.
That's hardly a new thought, but what I found interesting was other, albeit anecdotal, corroboration from Ingres.
In particular, according to the company, there seems to be a growing awareness amongst IT bosses that they are paying through the nose for, well, nothing: inflexible licensing regimes, and an upgrade treadmill that means constant fees to access software you've already paid for. Open source, with its zero up-front costs and reasonable support and service terms, is clearly attractive here.
To what extent this growing resentment will be good news for Ingres depends in part on what Sun does with MySQL. Things don't seem entirely happy there – not least with stuff like this flying around – but that might just be a short-term blip as Sun works out how it is going to recoup its investment.
The central issue is whether MySQL is really up to enterprise-level tasks. One issue that Berquist discussed at some length was the rise of cloud computing, and the need for a scalable database solution there – which he feels Ingres is well placed to meet.
I'd really like to believe that the current downturn represents even more of an opportunity for free software than the last one, which saw the LAMP stack rise to prominence. But the cynical journalist in me worries that, despite the inarguable logic of the idea, it's still a lot of wishful thinking on the part of open source suppliers who want/need it to be true, and that companies aren't quite brave enough to leave the comfort zone and make the jump to freedom. If even more lights start going out, perhaps they will have no choice.