Recently I expressed doubts about Actian’s DBMS-conglomerate growth strategy. For context, perhaps I should review other DBMS vendors’ acquisition strategies in the past. Some — quite a few — worked out well; others — including many too minor to list — did not.
In the pre-relational days, it was common practice to buy products that hadn’t succeeded yet, and grow with them. Often these were programs written at enterprises, rather than third-party packages. Most of Cullinet’s product line, including its flagship DBMS IDMS, was came into the company that way. ADR, if memory serves, acquired the tiny vendor who created DATACOM/DB.
Then things slowed down. A Canadian insurance company oddly bought Computer Corporation of America, to utter non-success. (At least I got an investment banking finder’s fee on the deal.) Computer Associates, which did brilliantly in acquiring computer operations software, had a much rockier time with DBMS. It acquired Cullinet, Applied Data Research, and ASK/Ingres — among others — and didn’t have much growth or other joy with any of them.
Indeed, Ingres has been acquired three times, and hasn’t accomplished much for any of the acquirers (ASK, Computer Associates, Actian).
I used to think that Oracle’s acquisition of RDB provided key pieces of what became Oracle’s own extensibility technology. Andy Mendelsohn, however, disputed this vehemently — at least by his standards of vehemence — and his sources are better than mine. Rather, I now believe as I wrote in 2011:
… while Oracle’s track record with standalone DBMS acquisitions is admirable (DEC RDB, MySQL, etc.), Oracle’s track record of integrating DBMS acquisitions into the Oracle product itself is not so good. (Express? Essbase? The text product line? None of that has gone particularly well.)
Experiences were similar for some other relational DBMS pioneers.
- Sybase did well with its acquisitions of what became the standalone products Sybase IQ and Adaptive Server Anywhere.
- Informix did well with its acquisition of what became Informix’s parallel offering XPS (the same technology Ingres passed up), but terribly with Illustra (which it unwisely tried to integrate into its other products).
- Microsoft has done very well with Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise’s source code, which formed the basis for SQL Server.
IBM’s acquisition of Informix, however, didn’t accomplish much that I’ve been able to discern. Ditto various small deals such as Oracle/Sleepycat, Oracle/TimesTen, or IBM/solidDB. And no acquisition of an object-oriented DBMS vendor — of which there have been many — has succeeded in igniting that niche market.
Finally, let’s consider the recent merger wave in the analytic RDBMS sector.
- Microsoft went first, acquiring DATAllegro. Integration of DATAllegro and SQL Server technology didn’t go well; while PDW (Parallel Data Warehouse) has finally come to market, I believe it’s much less based on DATAllegro than Microsoft first hoped.
- IBM has sold a lot of Netezza into its installed base. Otherwise Netezza seems to be lagging. And it’s generally assumed that most noteworthy Netezza people have been or can be hired away. (Big exceptions: Phil Francisco, perhaps also John Metzger.) Wisely, IBM has made no moves to combine DB2 and Netezza into a single product.
- EMC/Greenplum has been the flashiest of these deals. Some early bumps notwithstanding, EMC poured resources into Greenplum, and EMC/Greenplum have been correspondingly active. Partnerships (VMware, GE), name changes (Pivotal) and so on have also kept the pot stirred.
- For the first 2 years after being acquired by HP, Vertica proceeded fairly independently, with what seems like decent growth, but also without a Greenplum-like flood of resources enjoyed by EMC Greenplum. I expect somewhat more integration going forward, perhaps an appliance strategy that somebody actually notices.
- The Teradata/Aster case is much like IBM/Netezza — separate products, focused on the Teradata customer base. Details, of course, differ.