Ingres' open source strategy changes customer engagement

The database has been transformed since its code was opened up

When CA decided to open the source code to its Ingres database in 2004 sceptics described it as a marketing stunt and an act of desperation.

But Ingres was born open. In the 1970s it was released under a variant of the BSD (Berkeley) licence with even fewer restrictions on its use than the open source GPL licence.

CA’s Ingres is one of several commercial variants on that original development. Passing through Relational Technology, later renamed Ingres Corporation, in the 1980s to Ask Corporation in 1990, it was finally bought by CA in 1994. Ten years later CA took the plunge and opened the source code.

New Zealand boasts a number of prominent users, including Fisher & Paykel, the New Zealand Navy and Axis Intermodal (Ports of Auckland). Computerworld asks Australia and New Zealand manager Stuart Pike how the open source strategy is shaping up.

Stuart, how has the customer-base responded to open sourcing and the commercial open source model?

Very positive — 70% of our business in 2006 was an extension on our installed customer base. In a traditional software company with perpetual licence model the focus is on selling new licences which means there is little focus on helping customers exploit what they already have. With the open source model the focus is on leveraging what the customer already has and extending how it can be used. This is because customers buy a service not a product.

In addition, the feedback from our New Zealand partners and customers has been that Ingres is easy to do business with. For example, Massey University is implementing Ingres as its default open source database across the enterprise.

What Ingres developments can users expect or hope for in the coming year or two?

At the corporate level, Ingres acquired over 100 new business partners in 2006 (of which approximately 15 were in Australia and New Zealand). This means customers will have access to more applications and tools that can leverage the Ingres database.

The role of product development in an open source company is different in that features and functions development is not driven by the need to sell new licences. With Ingres, customers can expect to see a product development roadmap and quality assurance which is driven by customer and community requirements. Also, expect to see a lot more interaction with system integrators who choose Ingres to deliver solutions to their customers.

How does development happen with Ingres now? What does the Ingres project look like and how is it run?

The role of product development at Ingres is to provide quality assurance and a roadmap to our customers and the development community so they can interact directly with us and influence future product development priorities.

In other words, product development is controlled by Ingres but is now much more interactive. On a project level, Ingres will seek to leverage customers, user groups and partners in order to understand the end users’ needs better.

What are Ingres’ market sweet spots? Is it really an option for people currently using Oracle or DB2?

Traditionally in New Zealand Ingres has been strong in manufacturing and distribution, and transport as these are industries which are characterised by the need to do more with what they have in terms of IT.

Government will be a key focus for Ingres in 2007 given that the sector is forward-looking and looking to standardise on open source. Also, Ingres’ open-source database is tried and tested and customers and communities have access to a global support network.

It is definitely an option for customers using Oracle or DB2. In order to increase productivity, we have customers looking to replace Java with OpenRoad on Ingres (object-orientated) developments to give robust transaction delivery at lower cost. Ingres provides a low cost solution environment which is easy to manage to achieve this. It is therefore a legitimate option for Oracle users who pay for annual software support of which typically a huge number of applications are unused. Why wouldn’t a user want to reduce the total cost of ownership?

For you, Stuart, how does managing a commercial open-source project differ from managing in a proprietary software environment?

First, being able to put customers at the centre of your business rather than a product means being able to focus on what their needs are rather than what your business needs are.

Second, our sales and marketing organisation can focus on all our customers as our value is the outcome we produce not just the new licences the customer buy. The closed-source perpetual licence model drives a customer engagement model based on who is going to buy new licences this year, rather than who uses our technology and how they can optimise it.

Third, we are able to look at customer level profitability — that is the customer’s value to us and our value to them — and make decisions based on that, rather than their new potential transaction value.

Fourth, a closed-source company allocates its pre-sales and best talent to the largest new transactions in that year. Because Ingres is a service-based company this is not an issue.

There is no doubt in my mind the open-source model , with the choice and direct correlation between what customers want and how we deliver that — will change the closed-source software models. It is no longer about feature functions and managing your customers as transactions, but about delivering value.

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