MySQL Creators Move to Keep MySQL Open

MySQL originator Monty Widenius and Percona CEO Peter Zaitsev have recently formed the Open Database Alliance (ODA), a vendor-neutral consortium that aims to become a hub for the MySQL open source database community and its associated eco system. The ODA said it is also seeking to be a forum for derivative code, binaries, training, and support.

Widenius said in an e-mail interview that he and Zaitsev formed the group to unify the MySQL development community, but also to allay fears about the future of the popular open source database, which will be acquired by Oracle Corp. when it closes its acquisition of Sun Microsystems later this year. In fact, one of the primary drivers behind the creation of the ODA, Widenius said, was "the fear that MySQL customers and MySQL users felt from the Oracle acquisition."

"During the MySQL Users conference [in April] a lot of people came to me and asked if it was now time to do a fork or move away from MySQL," Widenius said. "People were scared for the future of MySQL, and this was the major reason for creating the Alliance."

The ODA launched a community-developed implementation of the MySQL database called Maria, a new storage engine for MySQL that it is aiming to become the default for both transactional and non transactional storage.

Given the number of third-party patches, storage engines and resources for MySQL, it was probably inevitable that an organization like the ODA would emerge at some point to make it easier for the various parties to collaborate and reduce duplication of effort, said Matthew Aslett, enterprise software analyst at the 451 Group.

"The Alliance also aims to unify all the different MySQL forks so that there is only one community-developed branch of MySQL instead of three or four as before," Widenius said. Ed Boyajian, CEO of EnterpriseDB, supplier of a commercial implementation of the competing PostgreSQL open source database, said the formation of the group underscores a fracturing of the MySQL community. ''I think it's a definition of a fractured community,'' Boyajian said during an interview discussing his own company's new Postgres Plus Advanced Server, launched last week. ''That process started with the Sun acquisition and the uncertainty around what happens with Oracle is accelerating, and guys like Monty want to protect the community of interest.''

However, it seems that the fork Widenius created with MariaDB may end up with the lion's share of the group's attention. When asked whether he expects the ODA to shift the focus to MariaDB in the open source community, he said: "The Alliance is foremost a consortium of companies doing business on MariaDB and MySQL (and in the long run other open source databases). All companies in the Alliance will, of course, support MariaDB but all will not work on it.... Over time, when MariaDB gains popularity, we expect that companies will more and more switch to working more exclusively on MariaDB."

The Role of MariaDB
The Alliance members will support MariaDB, he added as the free, community developed branch of MySQL. "This means that developers, users, and enterprises do not have to depend solely on Oracle for their MySQL release or for development or other services for MySQL."

The announcement of the acquisition of Sun by Oracle inevitably acted as a catalyst for MariaDB becoming the focal point, said Aslett. "I know some in the industry believe that in five years time, MariaDB will effectively be MySQL," he said. "Certainly in terms of the developer and third-party support communities, MariaDB has the potential to become an alternative branch of the MySQL development tree. However, MySQL Enterprise has the installed base of paying customers and is likely to remain the focus of commercial ISVs."

Gartner analyst Donald Feinberg agreed. Although the "hard-core open sourcers, the cowboy coders, students, and private developers who think that open source should take over the world" have been burning up the blogosphere with their concerns about an Oracle-owned version of their beloved DBMS, the enterprise users of MySQL are not worried, Feinberg said. "They're the ones who are buying support contracts and using MySQL for real production work," he said. "And they're as happy that Oracle is buying MySQL as they were when Sun bought it."

Sun Microsystems acquired MySQL AB, the commercial distributor of the open source DBMS, in 2008. Widenius was one of a group of former MySQL executives who stayed on after the Sun acquit ion, but later left that company. Widenius cited in his blog differences over the readiness of the MySQL 5.1 release, and ultimately his dissatisfaction with Sun's handling of MySQL server development, as the reason for his departure.

Although he says that he left Sun amicably, the other reason Widenius lists for establishing the ODA is that his company, Monty Program Ab, "was not able to work out with Sun any kind of workable agreement for either development work or community work."

One of the most important implications of Oracle's acquisition of Sun for the MySQL community is that Oracle now has some real, and potentially negative, influence over the destiny of the DBMS, Widenius said. "It gives Oracle the means to kill the embedded usage of MySQL (if they would like to)," he said. "There is, of course, no indication that Oracle would do this, but they could. They can't, however, kill the open source or internal usage of MySQL, as this is protected by the GPL."

Uncertainty Prevails
Feinberg said there are a lot of unknowns and Widenius and his team are in a key position to exploit that. "Oracle doesn't know yet what it's going to do with all the products from Sun and even if they did, they couldn't talk about," Feinberg said. That just adds to the ability of people like Monty to create a lot of negative hype about the whole thing."

Oracle's acquisition of Sun may be one of the best things to happen to MySQL, Feinberg noted. "When it went to Sun, not much was added to the development community," he said. "But now it's going to a company that really knows how to write a DBMS. And that has got to help MySQL become more solid."

By that he means there are thousands of applications in production that use MySQL but he problem of MySQL has been one of scalability and reliability. "Not because there's anything wrong with MySQL, but because it's only nine or ten years old, he said. "It takes time to mature this kind of infrastructure technology. When Oracle was ten years old, I'm not sure you could balance your checkbook with it. Now you can run zero-line reservation systems in Oracle. Is there a bug in MySQL that causes it to have locking problems when you have 3,000 users? That's not a bug; it's a design issue. And it's one that Oracle can fix."

A lot is hanging on whether Oracle embraces MySQL or lets it languish in favor of its own platforms, Aslett said. "If Oracle neglects or deliberately harms it, then the ODA will become the natural focal point for MySQL Community users, given the involvement of a number of key MySQL developers, service, and training providers. However, we expect Oracle to invest in positioning MySQL for use in the scale-out Web environments, where it has been successful to date. In that scenario, we would expect the ODA to remain of interest to MySQL Community users, but be of peripheral interest for MySQL Enterprise users."

It should not be forgotten that Oracle will own the copyright and trademarks surrounding MySQL, Aslett added "In order for Monty's vision to become reality, we would have to see a massive shift in users from MySQL to MariaDB and commercial ISVs collaborating on methods to workaround integration with an open source codebase without a commercial relationship with the copyright holder. This is possible, but if Oracle does invest in developing MySQL, there is unlikely to be enough incentive to make the change."