Thoughts on Acquisitions and ECM – EMC,BEA,Oracle,MySQL,Sun,…

Enterprise software has never looked more like a hillbilly family tree. Is hillbilly really one word? – it passed spell check, but I digress.

Consolidation in the market at this level makes the geeks and analysts quiver with delight over having something new to talk about. I have seen a great deal of repetition of the boring facts of the deals but what does it really change? Janus Boye’s post on the Oracle/BEA deal succinctly points out one the biggest dilemmas for Oracle. What to do with 4 portal products. It is not a new problem for tech acquisitions.

EMC has struggled with this for quite a while. In 2002 EMC acquired Legato before acquiring Documentum in 2003. At least as a customer, I never had the sense that they knew how to integrate their blended family. eRoom, a Documentum acquisition, from an R&D perspective often seemed neglected by the California dominated leadership and now sits on the sidelines as everyone appears to cede collaboration to SharePoint. I can’t help but wonder what’s to become of otherwise vibrant and popular morsels Oracle and Sun gobbled up once they are digested.

John Dvorak’s conspiratorial rant on the Sun/MySQl deal was a fun read and while I don’t know if it is the worst single event in the history of acquisitions, it still concerns me. I love MySQL. Not only was it freely distributable (always a plus when you’re a cheapskate like me) but it scaled down as well as it scaled up.  Some apps just don’t need the baggage and MySQL’s low cost of entry and ability to grow with the app it supports is the very engine that powers web innovation today. I truly hope Sun will be a good steward of MySQL but I have my doubts.

While discussing the $9 Million in funding they received, Marko suggested to me that instead of an IPO, it would be interesting if Alfresco were acquired by Sun so they can continue their climb up the stack. The relationships between the leadership of the two goes back a long way and the technical relationship is even more compelling. In the early days, the content management stack of choice for me was Sun/Oracle/Documentum. The first little repository I played with was on a Sparc20 and platform compatibility was never a problem as long as you stayed with this combination.

Despite our attempts to declare it otherwise, at the end of the day content repositories are database applications. Some non-traditional approaches, especially in the XML repository category (i.e. MarkLogic) have made laudable progress to distance this relationship but you can’t escape core services like session management, reporting and workflow that are served better with DBMS techniques. Sharepoint makes the architectural leap (some say mistake) and fully commits to the database over the file system for non-structured data storage.

Regarless of the synergies a closer Sun/Alfresco relationship is unlikely. There is too much value to be gained in the IPO and Alfreco has too much upside potential for them to surrender their strategy to Sun’s guidance now. I am looking forward to seeing what Sun’s next step will be and whether or not they do continue to expand the software portfolio into business applications. I also want to know whether or not they are worthy of defending this cornerstone of open source against an IBM and Oracle dominated enterprise database market.

I don’t think that Content Management and Archiving at EMC is through shopping but they have recent news that may not have gotten the attention it deserved. The impact of the Xhive acquisition I blogged on back in August has yet to fully form. Check out Pie’s comments on a presentation he saw recently. His impressions are insightful and my inner geek is screaming at me that this one is more significant than you might think.

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