Oracle and Sun attack the stack

Oracle has acquired BEA for $8.5 billion. Sun has acquired MySQL for $1 billion. These events are not coincidence. Oracle, which already makes a database, wants to add BEA's software on top of that database. Sun, which makes application servers and other software which connects to databases, wants to slip MySQL in underneath that layer. It all adds up to what geeks and software salesmen call a "stack," or a complete package of interconnecting programs.

The irony is that BEA rose to prominence on the notion that its application server would make things simpler for database buyers. Buy any database you'd like, and BEA's application server would connect to it. Likewise, MySQL grew as a cheaper, open-source alternative to databases from IBM and Oracle.

A database here, an application server there, a bit of open-source software on top of that all sounds nice in theory. It proved in practice to be a headache for the influential tech buyers at large corporations. One salesperson calling on them, one phone number to dial when things went wrong, it turns out, is what they really wanted.

The consolidation was inevitable, if perhaps a bit sad. The goal of the stack game is to make sure that your software is the layer on top — the one that matters to programmers, the one applications are designed for. BEA and MySQL both had grand ambitions in that regard. Those are now coming to an end. Sun and Oracle will no doubt make grand statements about how compatible their software is, how well their children play with others. Ignore those. The history of IT tells us those promises are false.