But several experts say IBM should still strive to complete the deal for one key prize - open-source database MySQL.
Inventor of the relational database, IBM has, apart from a short blip earlier this decade, played second fiddle to Oracle in the market for many years.
According to industry research firm IDC, Oracle had $8.34 billion in database revenue in 2007, giving it 37.6% of the market. IBM was second with $4.88 billion, or 22.%, primarily from DB2 and also Informix revenues. It was barely ahead of Microsoft with 21%, which has been catching up to IBM for the past decade with its SQL Server database likely already having more users.
IBM could re-capture the relational database crown market by injecting MySQL, already wildly popular among web 2.0 firms and start-ups, with its vast, storied portfolio of database patents, said Paul Vallee, executive chairman of database support services provider, The Pythian Group.
This would involve making as much as 40 years of database R&D and product development open source in order to quickly transform MySQL into a full-fledged enterprise database credible to the largest of customers.
At the same time, IBM would maintain MySQL's popular business model (free to users except for enterprises).
The move would be an unmitigated boon for enterprise database users, who would gain access to a beefed-up MySQL that would continue to vastly undercut Oracle and Microsoft on price.
If done right, it would lop billions of dollars off the $22.1 billion database market, Vallee said.
"It's an aggressive strategy that would actually change the marketplace completely over five to 10 years," he said.
Miriam Tuerk, CEO of Infobright , a Sun-backed startup that makes a storage engine for MySQL, "agrees 100 percent."
"MySQL is already grabbing significant marketshare from Oracle, and with IBM's brand, R&D capabilities and customer relationships, this may turn out to be the best part of an acquisition of Sun," she wrote in an email late last week before the acquisition talks turned sour. "I already know of many opportunities which would instantly convert to us and/or MySQL should this transaction go through."
Sun lacks database know-how to execute this strategy
Vallee conceded that translating IBM's R&D into actual MySQL features will take some engineering work, but that it shouldn't be a big problem.
"Patents exist because they protect innovations that are otherwise easy to implement," he said.