A blog for the enterprise open source community
MySQL at the core of commercial open sourceMatthew Aslett, September 26, 2011 @ 11:09 am ET
The news was both welcomed and derided. Rather than re-hashing previous arguments about open core licensing, what interests me more about the move is how it illustrates the different strategies adopted by Sun and Oracle for driving revenue from MySQL, and how a single project can be used to describe most of the major strategies from generating revenue from open source software.
Like most open source-related software vendors, MySQL started out life offering support, training and consulting around the open source database. The company also saw success in offering a closed source variant of the database for embedding in closed source systems, and it was this dual licensing strategy that drove much of the company’s early revenue. That began to change with the arrival of MySQL Enterprise (initially ‘MySQL Network’) – a subscription offering that delivered monitoring and (later) backup capabilities to paying customers only. While some people see this as an example of the open core licensing strategy, as we have previously explained, it is not. While open core is an extension of the dual licensing strategy with additional extensions, MySQL AB’s MySQL Enterprise, as the graphic above illustrates, actually paired the extensions with the open source MySQL Community – a subtle difference from the MySQL Enterprise licensing strategy adopted by Oracle (more of which later).
MySQL flirted with the open core licensing model in early 2008 with plans to introduce new features into Enterprise Edition that would not be available under an open source license. Those plans were ultimately reversed at the behest of new owner Sun Microsystems. To understand why Sun did this one must consider the company’s wider strategy for open source at the time. While a software freedom philosophy played a part, Jonathan Schwartz’s map of open source downloads, each representing ‘a potential customer that cost Sun nothing to acquire’, explains how Sun was less interested in driving direct revenue from MySQL (and other open source software) as it was in helping open source users to become customers for Sun’s commodity hardware and other products and services. (Although as Henrik notes in the comments, Sun did also increase MySQL direct revenue as well).
Sun never got the chance to prove whether this model would have worked (I’m being polite), but in any case contrast Sun’s approach with Oracle’s strategy for open source. While the majority of Oracle’s revenue clearly comes from other products, it is not looking to drive revenue for those products via open source downloads. Witness Larry Ellison’s recent proclamation that he doesn’t care if Oracle x86 server business (typically used to run MySQL) goes to zero. Instead (for better or worse) the company is focused on driving revenue directly from each individual product, whether that is a high margin server, or closed or open source software. That has resulted in an increased investment in embedded opportunities for MySQL, as well as traditional software license agreements. While customers might choose to use MySQL Community and purchase additional support subscriptions, as of November 2010 Oracle prefers that Standard Edition and Enterprise Edition customers enter into a commercial license agreement with the company. That was a strategy that was in place in advance of last week’s addition of high availability, scalability and security features, but one that clearly looks set to continue.
Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on your perspective. Monty Widenius does a good job of outlining the down sides to an open core licensing strategy, while Giuseppe Maxia focuses on the positives. Certainly Oracle will have to be mindful to balance the control and community aspects, but as we have previously covered (451 Group clients) there are a number of new capabilities in development for the core MySQL database itself. It is also worth noting, incidentally, that MySQL Enterprise Edition remains priced at $5,000 per server per year.
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