MySQL’s business model in a state of flux

“Sun to Begin Close Sourcing MySQL” screamed the headline on Slashdot last night. The headline is not entirely accurate (although slightly more accurate than the bizarre statement that “Sun has had a very poor history of actually open sourcing anything”).

So what is going on at MySQL? To get to the bottom of that you have to weave together a number of posts and comments from a number of sources. First the article behind the Slashdot headline:

“Just announced: MySQL to launch new features only in MySQL Enterprise,” states Jeremy Cole, which is a much more accurate description of the state of affairs. “MySQL will start offering some features (specifically ones related to online backups) only in MySQL Enterprise. This represents a substantive change to their development model — previously they have been developing features in both MySQL Community and MySQL Enterprise.”

Marten Mickos confirmed Jeremy’s post in the comments section, stating: “In 6.0 there will be native backup functionality in the server available for anyone and all (Community, Enterprise) under GPL. Additionally we will develop high-end add-ons (such as encryption, native storage engine-specific drivers) that we will deliver to customers in the MySQL Enterprise product only. We have not yet decided under what licence we will release those add-ons (GPL, some other FOSS licence, and/or commercial).”

So to clarify. Sun (or MySQL) is not going to begin closing the source code of MySQL features, but it is going to introduce new features into the Enterprise Edition that will not be available under an open source license.

To some extent there is nothing new here. The company previously announced that the Standard Edition of the recently introduced MySQL Workbench would include functionality not available in the open source Community Edition, while the MySQL Enterprise Fall 2007 release saw the availability of replication monitoring and advisory functionality only available with the Enterprise subscription.

Before that the company introduced Network Monitoring and Advisory Services with the Enterprise version in October 2006. Additionally, MySQL removed the Enterprise tarballs from its community ftp site in August 2007.

Mickos also responded to the Slashdot post itself; pointing out that “the business decision on this was made by MySQL AB (by me as the then CEO) prior to the acquisition by Sun, so this has nothing to do with Sun” and that “everything we have released under GPL continues to be under GPL”.

In a later comment he added: “If the world were perfect, we would only produce GPL code and we would have a great business that can fund the software development. But we have found that the world is not perfect. We have been experimenting with a variety of business models around FOSS (dual licensing, support only, simple subscriptions, different binaries for community and enterprise, non-open source features) to find the best one. And we will continue to experiment until we are satisfied. We need to find a model that allows us to produce a ton of great code under GPL while having the financial strength to do all this.”

I was reminded of an article Mickos himself wrote in 2006 about the 13 different business models used by open source vendors (the original article appears to have vanished but you can see my response to it and a list of the business models here).

From this list it is clear to see how MySQL is in the process of moving from “3. Software is free but if you embed it in closed source, you better pay a fee (Trolltech, DB4Objects, Funambol, MySQL, etc.)” to “6. Software is free but some enterprise features are not (SugarCRM, Zimbra, JasperSoft)”.

Of course, whether you believe this to be the correct model for MySQL is another matter, and Matt Asay for one would prefer to see MySQL opting for “5. Software is free but on-going maintenance, monitoring and provision of binaries is not (Red Hat)”, which is the direction the company had appeared to be going in.

The fear, as far as the community users is concerned, is that MySQL might end up using “7. Software is free but we built a closed-source product around it (EnterpriseDB, GreenPlum)”. However, given Sun’s business model is “9. Software is free but we sell everything else on the planet, including closed source software (IBM)” there appears to be little chance of that.

As Matt also notes, the problem MySQL has right now is a public relations problem (or a community relations problem). Given that there does not appear to be a vast change in strategy (despite the headlines this is a bend in the road rather than an about turn), this should not pose a long-term problem for the company.

Zack Urlocker has also clarified the situation here.

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#1 Steve Curry on 04.17.08 at 11:56 am

Matt — Zack Urlocker has posted further clarification on his blog at

#2 Matthew Aslett on 04.17.08 at 12:13 pm

Thanks Steve. I’ll add it to the post.

#3 tecosystems » The State of MySQL on 04.17.08 at 11:51 pm

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#4 Software Development Company on 04.18.08 at 1:49 am

MySQL to launch new features only in MySQL Enterprise. more information is that encryption, native storage engine-specific drivers) that will deliver to customers in the MySQL Enterprise product only.

#5 Antonio Serrano on 04.18.08 at 3:39 am

My opinion about this is simple. If Sun are going to introduce some new features only for enterprise will let open source without an exhaustive development.

It’s a simple theory…if don’t earn money with this, I’ll not develop it…

these are bad news for all open source community…maybe It’s time to go to another DB??

#6 Matthew Aslett on 04.18.08 at 3:46 am

It’s a good point. I only covered the business model aspects in my post, whereas Jeremy Cole looks more at the implications on the development model. Certainly it would appear to be counter-intuitive from a development and testing perspective.

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