Yesterday I provided a model for how business sees open source as a means to be profitable (here). This is the game Pivotal seems to be playing with their release of Hadoop, Gemfire, HAWQ, and Greenplum into open source. I do not know their real numbers… so they may need more or fewer additional customers than the mythical company to get back to break-even. But it is unlikely that any company can turn the corner from a license-based revenue stream to a recurring revenue stream in a year… so Pivotal must be looking at a loss. And when losses come it is usual to cut costs… to cut R&D.
There has already been a brain-drain out of the database ranks at Pivotal as they went “all in” on Hadoop. They likely hope for an open source community to pick up the slack… but there is not a body of success I can see in building a community to engineer a commercial product-turned-open. This is especially problematic for Gemfire, an old technology that has been in the commercial space for a very long time. HAWQ has to compete for database resources with the other Hadoop RDBMS technologies… that will be difficult. Greenplum has a chance as it is based on PostgreSQL… but it is a long way away from the current PostgreSQL code base these days. There is danger here.
The bottom line… Greenplum and HAWQ and Gemfire have become risky propositions for both the current customer base and for new customers. I’ll leave it to you to evaluate the risk as this story unfolds. Still, with the risk comes reward… the cost of acquiring Greenplum will drop dramatically and today Greenplum is a competitive product. In addition, if Greenplum gains some traction, it will put price pressure on the other database products. Note that HAWQ was already marked down to open source price levels… and part of Pivotal’s problem was that HAWQ was eating at the Greenplum market. With these products priced at similar levels there becomes some weirdness in choosing… but the advantage is to customers looking at Greenplum.
One great outcome comes for Pivotal Hadoop customers… the fact that Hortonworks will more-or-less subsume Pivotal Hadoop leaves those folks in a better place than before.
If you consider the thought experiment you would have to ask yourself why a company that was breaking even would take this risky route? It could be that they took the route because they were not breaking even and this was a possible path to get even. Also consider… open sourcing code is the modern graceful way to retire an unprofitable product line.
This is sound thinking by Pivotal… during the creation, EMC gave Pivotal several unprofitable troubled assets and these announcements give Pivotal a path forward. If the database product line cannot carry their weight then they will go into maintenance mode and slowly fade. Too bad… as you know I consider Greenplum a solid product whose potential was wasted. But Pivotal has a very nice product in Cloud Foundry… and they clearly see this as their route to profitability and to an IPO… a route that no longer includes a significant contribution from database products.