Is MySQL open core?

Or, how we evaluate a company’s open source-related business strategy.

Godwin’s law states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches”.

An online discussion about open source-related business strategies is no exception. However, long before the Nazi comparison it is inevitable that someone will ask “is MySQL open core?”.

I updated our 2009 post “what is open core, and what isn’t” recently, and received some criticism of my statement that the MySQL strategy was not open core.

Since we have recently published a report including the results of our analysis of the open source-related business strategies of 300 vendors and subsidiaries it seems appropriate that we use this opportunity to explain how we evaluate a company’s open source-related business strategy, and specifically how our analysis led us to conclude at the time of our analysis (August/September) that the open core licensing strategy did not apply to MySQL.

Given the recent changes to MySQL pricing and licensing we have also revisited our analysis, see below.

Looking at MySQL Enterprise it is easy to see why so many people conclude that the product licensing strategy being applied to MySQL is open core, since MySQL Enterprise contains extensions for which source code is not available that are not available with MySQL Community.

However, it is important to remember that products are not open core – and companies are not open core – but that open core is a product licensing strategy applied by companies to products. Therefore the question “is MySQL open core?” is inappropriate. A more appropriate question would be, “is the product licensing being used with MySQL open core?”

It is also worth noting that a product licensing strategy is just one of five elements that we at The 451 Group use to evaluate an open source-related business strategy.

The five elements we consider are: the software license for the open source software; the development model for the open source software; copyright ownership for the open source software code; the product licensing strategy; and the revenue generator. Specifically, with regards to MySQL, our evaluation went as follows:

Software license/development model/copyright ownership:
This was a relatively straightforward process for the MySQL business. The MySQL Database software is available under the GNU GPLv2, a strong copyleft license, and although the code is available at Launchpad, clearly the software continues to be developed in the cathedral model by a core group of developers, mostly employees of a vendor: Oracle. The same vendor also owns the copyright.

Product licensing strategy:
This is where things started to get a little bit difficult. Historically MySQL AB used the dual licensing strategy, making a version of MySQL Server available under a closed source license (aka selling exceptions) for enterprises. That strategy remains in use today to enable the use of MySQL embedded in closed source software. However, the version of MySQL Server in MySQL Enterprise was not closed source, and was the same GNU GPL version as MySQL Community. This provides a good example of why it is important to assess the licensing strategy, rather than the product: the open core licensing strategy uses dual licensing and adds closed source extensions to create a closed source version that is a superset of open source software (or from another perspective, an open source version that is a subset of closed source software). Since this description did not apply to MySQL Enterprise, which saw the open source MySQL Server delivered along with closed source extensions, we concluded that Oracle did not use an open core licensing strategy with regards to MySQL.

Revenue generator
The description of MySQL Enterprise, used above (open source software with additionally capabilities delivered via subscription) is exactly what we consider a value-added subscription revenue generator. There are often many ways in which a vendor generates revenue from open source software. MySQL is just such a case: Oracle generates revenue from closed source licenses embedded in closed source software, but the largest generator is the MySQL Enterprise value-added subscription.

Conclusion:
The MySQL strategy includes a strong copyleft software license, vendor-developed software using the cathedral model, and vendor-owned copyright. That much was easy. It was also easy to identify the dominant revenue generator, which was value-added subscription. That left the product licensing strategy, for which the choices were single open source (in MySQL Enterprise) and dual licensing (for embedded usage). To select single open source would be inaccurate since we could not ignore the fact that the MySQL business uses a dual licensing strategy.

MySQL Reconsidered:
In the light of the recent licensing and pricing changes for MySQL we took the opportunity to talk to Oracle about the licensing of MySQL. What we discovered was that whereas the MySQL Database previously accompanied by the MySQL Enterprise subscription was licensed using the GNU GPL, Oracle now prefers that Standard Edition and Enterprise Edition customers enter into a commercial license agreement with the company (although they will apparently be able to negotiate subscription usage with MySQL Community). This is a licensing agreement that does not impact the functionality or code of the MySQL Database itself, although clearly there continues to be additional functionality delivered with the MySQL Standard and Enterprise subscriptions, such as MySQL Enterprise Monitor and MySQL Enterprise Backup.

This changes our perspective of the MySQL-related strategy on two levels, Firstly, with regard to the revenue generator, we can now conclude that going forward the biggest revenue generator for Oracle from MySQL will be closed source licenses. While this closed source software will still be delivered via a subscription agreement, our support subscription and value-added subscription categories are reserved for products that use an open source license. It also changes our perspective on the product licensing strategy. Specifically in that our description of open core used above, (dual licensing + closed source extensions to create a closed source version that is a superset of open source software) does now apply to MySQL Standard and MySQL Enterprise.

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4 comments ↓

#1 Mark Callaghan on 11.11.10 at 10:45 pm

Can you elaborate on this? MySQL is GPL. Other bits are not (Enterprise, hot backup). But they never published source for the other bits and support customers have always signed contracts to cover the support deal. I don’t get what has changed. Support customers don’t need to sign a license to use GPL MySQL. They do need one to use hot backup and enterprise. But why anyone allow the deal to cover use of the GPL bits as long as they could live within GPL requirements?

Is the change that people will now get source to the proprietary bits? Because signing a contract to get access to the proprietary bits has always been required.

>>>
Oracle now prefers that Standard Edition and Enterprise Edition customers enter into a commercial license agreement with the company (although they will apparently be able to negotiate subscription usage with MySQL Community). This is a licensing agreement that does not impact the functionality or code of the MySQL Database itself, although clearly there continues to be additional functionality delivered with the MySQL Standard and Enterprise subscriptions, such as MySQL Enterprise Monitor and MySQL Enterprise Backup.
>>>

#2 Stewart Smith on 11.12.10 at 7:14 am

It’s also important to note that MySQl Enterprise Monitor and innodb hot backup are *separate* bits of software. They do not reside inside the same address space.

So if what you’re looking for is in depth support of mysqld, you can go anyone who provides that. If there were binary blobs that you didn’t have the source for, then you couldn’t.

You only freedom you give up by using MySQL Enterprise Monitor or Backup is the standard freedom you loose by using any proprietary software.

Simple, don’t use them.

Get your MySQL Server support from whoever you think is the best vendor to get it from – Oracle isn’t selling any MySQL Server with binary only bits (unlike was tried when Sun owned MySQL, a push already in place from the MySQL AB days).

Enterprise Monitor talks to the MySQL server over a standard interface (the MySQL network protocol) and the innodb hot backup tool uses a standard interface (reads innodb format files from disk). Oracle, Sun, MySQL all just packaged the open source MySQL server with extra proprietary bits.

#3 Henrik Ingo on 11.13.10 at 7:44 am

But if the proprietary version is identical to the GPL version, then this is dual licensing? (Since you don’t count the separate tools.)

Sorry, had to do it 🙂 Anyways, I don’t doubt that soon enough we will see proprietary modules in the proprietary versions. My bet is on InnoDB Full Text Search being the first one: http://www.flamingspork.com/blog/2010/09/30/what-was-innodb/

#4 451 CAOS Theory » MySQL at the core of commercial open source on 09.26.11 at 11:09 am

[…] in MySQL Enterprise Edition, confirming the adoption of the open core licensing strategy, as we reported last […]

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