Time to Open-Source Caché?

There’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few years.  Those who know me have often heard me surmising about it.  To date I’ve not really talked about it publicly, but I’ve decided it’s perhaps time I did.  It’s a contentious idea:

I really think that it’s about time InterSystems bit the bullet and re-licensed their core Caché database technology as an Open Source product.

Unlikely? Perhaps.  But this one step would have a massive impact.  Overnight it would change attitudes out there in the mainstream towards Caché from one of either total lack of interest or scornful disdain to one of great interest.  In my opinion it would be hugely beneficial to everyone including (contrary, I’m sure, to their current belief) InterSystems themselves.

Yes, it would require a significant mindset change within their organisation and would require a courageous act of faith on their part.  Of course, it would force them to move them to an entirely services-based commercial model (at least for their core Caché database product), but then, as the charts they present annually at their Global Summit conferences demonstrate, these days support and maintenance are already two of their major revenue streams anyway.

I know from my experience working within the NoSQL, Node.js and Javascript communities – everyone there has made it very clear to me: most people in those communities have never even heard of Caché (because they only look for Open Source databases) or, if they have heard of it, aren’t interested in finding out anything about it (because it isn’t an Open Source database).

If Caché is going to succeed in the new NoSQL-centric world and become a household name (uttered alongside the likes of MongoDB, CouchBase, Cassandra, Neo-4j etc), then it’s going to have to become an Open Source product.

And before anyone pipes up and reminds me that InterSystems’ Globals Database product has been released as a free product: yes I’m well aware of that, but “free as in beer” is not what it’s all about: Open Source isn’t about a zero price, it’s about freedom. The sad reality is that despite Globals being a perfect potential NoSQL database to sit alongside Node.js, nobody in the Node.js community has gone anywhere near it.  An interesting case study, then, in the difference in attitudes out there between a free database and a free Open Source database.

Meanwhile, many other (mostly inferior in my opinion) NoSQL databases are gaining serious traction out there, for the very reason that they are Open Source products.

I suppose it will come down to InterSystems’ strategic intentions for Caché and their long-term vision.  Perhaps the idea of Caché being a household name and a mass-market NoSQL database doesn’t actually appeal to them.  Perhaps they want it to remain a little-known database outside of its dominant niche of healthcare (where even most healthcare IT people are actually barely aware of its existence!).  Perhaps it’s doing quite well enough, thank you very much, right now and they don’t need to consider anything so potentially commercially risky.

But maybe, just maybe, there’s a glimmer of hope.  Anyway, at least I’ve chucked out the idea.  In the words of McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: “But I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.”



  1. Rob –
    Well written and persuasive. All of us would like to see InterSystems and Cache go mainstream because it’s the best DB out there. Perhaps InterSystems could come up with a sales model similar to Red Hat or a hybrid.
    – Tom Fitzgibbon | Multidata | 212-967-6700 x537

  2. Perhaps the good people leading Caché will find a path to toward open source without riskinq current core business… or, perhaps, finding some areas where new opportunities will balance the risk. I think Rob makes clear that ignoring open source carries the risk of major lost opportunities.

  3. Hi. They have allready understood Open Source power. But managers can’t understand Open Source rules. Their Globals DB is a good example. It is free, but it is just yet another proprietary niche storage engine. Not even Database engine because of it’s lack of M support. Does someone need it? Maybe ten or hundred people will play with it, due to its’ noSQL nature. But it will not lead them to use Cache.
    I suggest even making most Intersystems’ products open source will not bring much profit itself without the need to breeding open source community.

  4. Rather than jumping in to the deep end of the pool and open sourcing it, I’d personally rather they first license their tools to developers at a reasonable price who want to learn their technologies.

    Unless you work for a large organization that licenses their Healthshare Foundation, DeepSee and iKnow products where you can get a reasonable local dev key, you’re out of luck. And no, please spare me the statements of “you don’t need a license” (ever try running an HL7 production in a late version of Ensemble? Talk about dead jobs…) Also let’s avoid the “call them every 30 days and they give you a key”, too…

    Last person I know that wanted a dev key for their suite, IS wanted some $250,000. That’s not ridiculous, it’s sublime to the level of lunacy. I thought the MSDN Ultimate was pricey from Microsoft – but Intersystems makes Microsoft and Apple look like saints offering donations to the poor.

    They don’t consider the individual developer in their existing business model, so I doubt they will ever consider open sourcing it.

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