Market dominance from below

It appears that yet another technology market has been usurped by an upstart. Being a fan of rags-to-riches stories, I almost giddy over this news.

According to the good folks at Evans Data, MySQL is about ready to dominate the DBMS market place (which helps explain why Larry Ellison is scrambling for higher ground). With use of MySQL growing about 12.5% every quarter, you have to wonder what could possibly halt this juggernaut.

Old School tech marketing people will mistakenly claim that MySQL is popular only because it is free. Though “free” is always a viable selling differentiator, in the big bad world of enterprise IT free is not good enough. All the other factors have to come into play, including support, portability, integration, and more.

So why has MySQL grown to dominate the market and threaten the bonus checks of executives at Oracle and IBM? Because MySQL has met the whole product requirements of the largest segments of the DBMS market, that being the bottom. Working from the top down (as all good marketing professional should):

  1. The market are all those people who need a DBMS. Since Joe Six Pack doesn’t need a DBMS, the market is constrained to those who develop applications.

  2. The largest segment of the untapped market are small- to mid-sized developers, followed by those developing embedded applications (for which portability, speed, and light-weight distribution are key).

  3. A usable DBMS must then integrate into the development and production environment. Since most new development is web based, a DBMS must play nice with web servers. Since Apache and Linux both dominates that market, and also meets the portability and embedded criteria that developers have on their short list, LAMP makes a natural paring and a new “good enough” development system.

(One case in point is WebTrends web analytics. When shipped for installation on a Windows PC, WebTrends installs Apache and MySQL as its foundation, quite to the ignorance of the end user. The solution is embedded, compact, fast, and brutally effective.)

This is where both Oracle, IBM and Sybase committed an elegant form of financial suicide – by not recognizing the untapped market and developing solutions that met the whole product criteria. By focusing exclusively on enterprise sales, they left the lower strata of the market to MySQL.

Like Linux before it, MySQL established a beachhead in their market segment. Though limited in features and functions early on, it was good enough for the bulk of the market. This beachhead gave MySQL sufficient staying power to evolve to meet the needs of other market segments. It is now feature rich enough to handle 90+% of the DBMS marketplace needs and threaten established DBMS vendors.

The lessons technology marketing professionals need to learn are these:

  1. Most technology markets develop from the bottom up. Microsoft was a small contributor to the original IBM PC, but parlayed their position to developers and grew their market.

  2. If you are a market gorilla, you need to fulfill most of the needs of the bottom of the market to prevent competitors from eroding your base (the trick is to do so and not bleed away all your cash in the process).

  3. It is always about the developer. If your provide infrastructure (like a DBMS), the developer is the person that makes you famous. Make sure you take care of them first.

Now, should Microsoft be fearful of MySQL?


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