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Stephen Shankland

Staff Writer, CNET

SANTA CLARA, Calif.–Sun Microsystems has raised the possibility that it might offer customers its own database, a move that could trigger displeasure at Oracle but curry favor with open-source advocates.

Chief Executive Scott McNealy offered the provocative idea Wednesday at a meeting of influential financial analysts at Sun’s headquarters here. During a speech, he showed a slide that placed the words “Sun DB” next to a list of existing database products.

McNealy offered no details besides “stay tuned,” but Sun President Jonathan Schwartz indicated in an interview that database software is one possible way Sun plans to extend into new open-source software realms.

“I think it’s clear the market has spoken that open source is the path that the developer community and the customer community wants to drive down, and I think we’re going to do what we can to try to give customers as big a set of options as we can,” Schwartz said. “I don’t think it’s going to be limited to simply operating systems. Maybe it will extend to file systems, maybe it will extend to databases, maybe it will extend to middleware.”

William Hurley, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, believes Sun will eventually offer a database to flesh out its server software suite. But a direct fight with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison would be foolhardy and unlikely.

“I would counsel strongly against them acquiring database technology to go head-to-head with Oracle,” Hurley said.

If Sun chooses a partnership for a database, one company stands out from the alternatives: Computer Associates International, which is working to bring more attention to its 30-year-old and now open-source Ingres database. “We have ongoing efforts with Sun, and some of those efforts include Ingres,” said Tony Gaughan, senior vice president of development at CA.

Unlike rivals IBM and Microsoft, Sun has no database software to sell in a $13.5 billion market that Oracle leads, according to IDC.

Lacking a database is significant given Sun’s argument that customers want to buy a package of integrated technology rather than parts that must be assembled. Instead, Sun relies on a tight partnership with database giant Oracle.

Offering an open-source database that competes directly with Oracle’s cash cow might not sit well with a major business partner that also has strong partnerships with Dell and Hewlett-Packard. But Sun has shown a willingness recently to tussle with Oracle.