Open Source Flies In A Recession, Says Ingres

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Open source software is the only way for users to meet the economic crisis, says Roger Burkhardt of Ingres. But they will have to take some short term pain to get out of proprietary licence structures.

The recession is good for open source. In the open source community, that is now a commonplace, a knee-jerk response to any question about open source prospects. But it’s often based on fairly simplistic logic: open source can be cheaper, and a recession pushes people to save money.

In fact, though, things are more complicated. Any kind of change involves investment, and users changing to open source will have to put in investment of one form or another, which can be hard to find in straitened times.

So, for a more nuanced discussion, we met up with Roger Burkhardt. He is chief executive of Ingres, a leading open source database with a fascinating history, and plenty of commercial users. And before that, he was chief technology officer at the New York Stock Exchange, spearheading its move to open source.

We met Burkhardt at the top of the “Gherkin”, the iconic 30 St Mary Axe skyscraper in London’s financial district, and the city made a suitable backdrop to our talk. In Part 1 of this interview, he talks about the business case for open source. Tomorrow, he talks about the UK government’s role in open source, and about the fate of MySQL.

“A recession calls for leadership,” said Burkhardt. “The easy thing is to cut people.” Expecting a short recession, IT managers can simply lay off staff and struggle along, but if the recession goes on longer, it means they no longer have the talent to innovate. “It leads to a death spiral, and that is just wrong. It’s an absence of leadership.”

Instead of cutting staff, IT chiefs should be looking at other expense items, and in particular, support for proprietary software such as Oracle: “Do you write another million-dollar support cheque, and lay off a hundred people?” he asks. “You might do that if the recession will be over quickly, but this recession is not a short run.”

There are credible alternatives to signing cheques to the big suppliers, he says: “No one has to put their career on the line – there’s a proven alternative, proven day in and day out.” Along with other open source vendors such as Red Hat, Ingres has the right open source and business credentials, he says.

Ingres – open source from the start


The original source code of the Ingres database has always been available under the BSD open source licence, and is at the heart of other products including Sybase and Microsoft SQL Server. The Ingres company gave Oracle a good fight in the early 1980s, but lost share, and was swallowed by first ASK, and finally in 1994 went to the software elephants’ graveyard, Computer Associates (CA).

But when open source software emerged as a viable business model, CA re-launched Ingres r3 as an open source product, and spun off Ingres as a new company, which has won some major contracts, trading on Ingres’ historic strength as well as the open source business model.

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