The PostgreSQL faithful would say that their favorite database was always a viable alternative to Oracle, but it took the European Commission to catapult the open-source project into the spotlight.

In clearing the way for Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems, the EC removed the final anti-competitive roadblock to the deal by saying that the PostgreSQL database was robust enough to offer an open-source choice to Oracle’s database offerings.

Now, a month after the close of the deal,  Oracle is promising MySQL’s future will include a larger budget and more innovation. In spite of those promises, inquiries into PostgreSQL migration have increased since the acquisition, as has interest in other open-source alternatives to Oracle and Sun products.

In January of 2009, EnterpriseDB’s MySQL-to-PostgreSQL migration tool saw 5,000 downloads. In November, as the deal was hung up by the EC, that number increased to 8,100. Ed Boyajian, CEO of EnterpriseDB, said that this increase reflects the growth in the number of customers that have approached his company to learn more about replacing MySQL.

“Q4 2009 was our largest new customer quarter in the history of the company by almost a factor of two over the next closest quarter,” said Boyajian. “The EU rightly recognized PostgreSQL as the alternative database for the open-source users.”

Despite the warnings of failure from Oracle’s competitors, there is  precedent for the company succeeding with open-source database acquisitions. Mike Olson founded Sleepycat to support the Berkeley DB embedded XML database. In February of 2006, Oracle purchased that company for an undisclosed amount. Today, Olson is CEO of Cloudera, and he said he’s one of only a few Sleepycat employees not still working at Oracle.

“The first thing I would say is that I spent a couple of really great years at Oracle,” he said. “By far, the majority of Sleepycat’s employees are still working at Oracle in engineering, sales and marketing in general, doing the same jobs they were before. It was a change to go from this scrappy, tiny company to one of the biggest enterprises on the planet, but it’s one everyone made it through.

“I liked the people I worked with at Oracle a great deal. I think the strategy Oracle’s exhibited in growing the customer base through internal investment and through mergers and acquisitions has been hugely successfully.”

But Boyajian said that there is more at work here than simply a fear of how Oracle will treat MySQL. “It’s less about MySQL and more about what’s going on in the industry. People just have to save money, and the big players aren’t the place to go to save money. Database is still the biggest line item in software spending,” he said.

“Also, we are at the early stages of a major shift in platform technology. New applications will be written for that [cloud] environment, and old applications will be rewritten.” He indicated that platform refreshes offer a chance to change infrastructure.

Whither Java?
Oracle is making an effort to clear out the fear and uncertainty around its Sun acquisition by hosting customer events and by posting informational videos online. In its Java-specific Webcast, Jeet Kaul, vice president of client software development at Oracle, said that both the HotSpot JVM and JRockit will continue to be supported and developed, contradicting reports of earlier statements by Oracle principal engineer Mark Reinhold that the two JVMs would be merged sometime in the next 18 months.

Kaul also said Oracle will focus heavily on supporting other languages in the JVM, such as Python and Ruby, as well. He also said that JavaFX will be integrated with the Oracle Application Development Framework. Oracle, he said, will continue to participate in the JCP, both at the committee level and at the executive committee level. He did not state whether Sun and Oracle representatives would be consolidated in their positions within the JCP.

Perhaps the most interesting plan Oracle has for Java is to unify the APIs of Java ME and Java SE, which Kaul said would be a focus going forward.

Craig Muzilla, vice president of middleware at Red Hat, said he’s seeing increased interest in the JBoss suite of open-source middleware as an alternative to Oracle’s stack. This first began after Oracle acquired BEA Systems, he said.

“Charlie Peters [Red Hat’s CFO] has stated that the growth rate is highest in the JBoss group, sometimes tracking at two times the rate of the rest of the business,” said Muzilla.

But Oracle’s middleware business is expanding into areas that JBoss and Red Hat aren’t. Oracle announced two years ago that its middleware would be available in versions targeted at specific vertical markets, such as health care, banking and aerospace. With the closure of the Sun acquisition, Kaul said Oracle hopes to push this vertical focus into Java with industry- and task-specific versions of Java ME and Java SE.

Kaul also said that JavaOne will be going on the road. The conference has been uprooted from its traditional spring date and merged with Oracle’s annual OpenWorld conference in September. The two events will be held in the same place at the same time, and Oracle has indicated that attendees will have access to both events. JavaOne will branch out on its own as a new conference in the emerging markets of Brazil, China, India and Russia.