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The potential impact of Sun-Oracle on MySQL, and its partnersMatthew Aslett, April 23, 2009 @ 9:20 am ET
“We’re both in the transportation business. We have a 747, and they have a Toyota.”
The comparison of Oracle’s database and MySQL, made by Oracle president Charles Phillips at the 2004 Vortex Conference was undoubtedly meant as a criticism, but it so graphically demonstrated the differing business strategies and selling-points of the two products that MySQL executives began citing it themselves.
It is also a comparison that explains how the two products could potentially co-exist within a single company, as they seem likely to do following the announcement that Sun has agreed to be acquired by Oracle.
Much of the MySQL-related coverage of the impending acquisition has focused on the likelihood of Oracle killing-off the development the open source database. While that is a possibility, my opinion is that it gives neither Oracle nor MySQL enough credit.
As MySQL creator Monty Widenius indicates, Oracle has (at least) three options:
- “They are going to kill MySQL (either directly or by not developing/supporting it fully)
- MySQL will get sold of to another entity, either because Oracle doesn’t want it or becasue of anti-trust laws.
- They will embrace MySQL and Open Source and put their technical expertise on it to ensure that MySQL continues to be the most popular advanced Open Source database.”
Monty is putting his hopes on the third option, which is also the one I see as more likely.
Oracle and Larry Ellison didn’t get where they are today by ignoring a business opportunity and MySQL represents a more significant business opportunity for Oracle alive than dead.
MySQL’s strategy of avoiding direct competition with Oracle and IBM enabled it to establish a substantial business under the noses of the database giants by targeting a market (web applications) that they were not particularly interested in.
That was then, this is now, and the web-based applications market is a lucrative market opportunity that Oracle, IBM and Microsoft cannot afford to ignore. However, they are also well aware that MySQL was successful in this market because it offered something different from the established database choices.
For that reason Oracle will be well aware that it has little to gain from killing off MySQL. Were it to do so MySQL users would be far more likely to run away from Oracle than adopt the Oracle Database. By keeping MySQL alive, Oracle has the potential to up-sell MySQL users to other Oracle products and services, while also using MySQL as a weapon to attack Microsoft’s installed base at the low-end.
Additionally, promoting MySQL gives Oracle access to a new breed of developers. As former MySQL CEO Marten Mickos told Forbes: “They can kill the business. But I don’t think they will. Larry Ellison is smart. MySQL was getting around 70,000 downloads a day when I left. It’s an amazing grip on young developers. Having MySQL makes business sense for Oracle.”
The focus when Sun acquired MySQL in 2008 was all about extending the open source database for adoption in new markets for web-based transactional applications. In comparison, the focus for MySQL under Oracle will likely be on what MySQL does best.
Oracle already has a scale-up database for enterprise transactional applications. Expect MySQL to become the scale-out database for non-transactional web applications.
Of course, maintaining two database products within a company like Oracle is going to be far from easy. In order to do so Oracle would need to keep the two sales teams apart. As Marten explained, one way to mess up the opportunity would be “by slipping it into the database division. Then you’ll see turf wars.”
Then there is the fact that MySQL is currently in something of a state of disarray within Sun, although as Kaj Arno points out, it is in the process of correcting its past mistakes with regards to the community and software engineering. Oracle would be advised to focus on those efforts, as well as managing the sales teams.
In addition, Oracle will also have to work hard to ensure it retains what remains of the MySQL staff. As Monty says, “The biggest threat to MySQL future is not Oracle per se, but that the MySQL talent at Sun will spread like the wind and go to a lot of different companies which will set the MySQL development and support back years.”
So I think it is unlikely that Oracle will stick a knife in MySQL. The likelihood of someone sticking a fork in it is another matter, however (see what I did there?).
The acquisition of Innobase by Oracle in 2005 created a significant business opportunity for vendors to develop products that complement the MySQL database by providing storage engines suitable for different usage scenarios.
Just this month we saw Infobright update its data warehousing software, which turns MySQL into a data warehouse capable of supporting 30TB+, while Kickfire officially launched its MySQL-based analytic appliance (PDF). Meanwhile Calpont repositioned as an MPP data warehousing engine for MySQL, while ScaleDB launched the beta of its ScaleDB Cluster shared-disk clustering for MySQL (PDF), Tokutek delivered its Fractal Tree Indexing-based engine, (PDF) and Schooner Information Technology and Virident both launched MySQL-based appliances.
Oracle’s acquisition of Sun could have a more significant impact on the business models of these vendors than it has on the MySQL database or MySQL users. While Oracle will be happy for an Oracle-owned MySQL to cannibalise its business, the same is unlikely to be true of third-party vendors making use of MySQL to target Oracle.
With the MySQL and InnoBD development teams united under Oracle it seems likely that the company would focus all its attention on InnoDB and MySQL’s in-house storage engines rather than providing a business opportunity to potential rivals, and I would be surprised if we saw commercial relationships renewed with all or any of the vendors listed above (although few would have predicted that Oracle would have renewed relations with MySQL following the acquisition of Innobase, so you never know).
These vendors would appear to have three options:
- Turn to another open source database project.
- Suppport their own MySQL fork.
- Migrate to an official unofficial fork of MySQL.
The first option is probably the easiest given the existence of PostgreSQL and Ingres. However, the reason that these companies chose MySQL in the first place was because the opportunity was to target the MySQL installed base. That opportunity does not simply transfer to PostgreSQL just because Oracle acquired MySQL.
Meanwhile, maintaining a fork of MySQL undermines the point of building a business around a standard, open source project. For that reason it seems likely that these vendors will gravitate towards an “official unofficial” fork of MySQL.
OurDelta provides an opportunity for this, as does Drizzle (although I would think that its self-imposed restrictions makes it incompatible for many use cases). Monty Widenius’ MariaDB would appear to be the most likely candidate, not least since it is run by the creator of MySQL, who has also declared himself willing to take on the role.
“I am prepared to hire or find a good home (either at Monty Program Ab or close to it) for all core MySQL personnel.
I am looking forward to working closely with Oracle (or whoever in the end gets to own MySQL) to ensure that there always exists a free branch of MySQL that is actively develop[ed] in an open manner and has that trust and support of the MySQL customers, developers and users.”
It remains to be seen precisely what Oracle will do with MySQL. Either way it would appear that rumours of MySQL’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
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