Enterprise Linux Log

Jan 17 2008   1:50PM GMT

A bright future for MySQL

Don Rosenburg Profile: Dkr

The recent acquisition of open source database vendor MySQL by software supergiant Sun Microsystems has many asking if this is a good thing. SearchEnterpriseLinux.com expert Don Rosenberg thinks so. He tells the Enterprise Linux Log why he agrees with Andrew Kutz that this might be the best move for MySQL.

Sun now owns the M in the famous LAMP stack. A good thing? Definitely. Open source fans are always happy to see the success of open source pioneers, such as Monty Widenius and David Axmark who have been with MySQL since 1995. One might have mixed feelings about MySQL being acquired rather than going public, for it would be nice to see some large companies develop in the open source market.

When it comes to open source, Widenius and Axmark played by the rules, initially licensing under the GNU lesser general public license (LGPL) and later under the GNU general public license (GPL). Like Red Hat, they understood the value of a large, evangelical user base that paid no revenue but helped spread the product. But unlike Red Hat, MySQL owns all of its code, adding a proprietary advantage to its strategy. This allows MySQL a proprietary license and companies to embed MySQL in proprietary software without violating open source rules. I suspect this proprietary wrinkle of MySQL was one of the things that made Sun interested.

Sun’s strategy a concern
Sun has always been schizophrenic about open source, as evidenced in their Sun Community Source License (SCSL) and the Sun Industry Standards Source License (SISSL). When it offered a Linux desktop, rather than putting the Linux name on it, Sun stamped it with the Java trademark instead. So it’s not hard to believe that the idea of actually owning MySQL versus merely being an equal user of the source code strongly influenced Sun’s decision.

That being said, I’m a little concerned about how slow Sun has been to warm up to open source licensing. In addition, as Sun was also slow to address the fact that software (e.g. Solaris) was as important to its business as hardware, it took a long time for Sun to wake up to the fact that many of its customers were Linux users.

This large-company lethargy influenced Sun’s open source possessions. It took years for OpenOffice to put up a Web page of add-ons, which were buried in a Sun database that only corporate purchasers would be attracted to. Some years ago Sun hired the leading developers of NetBeans and put them in its Prague laboratory, where they were to extend the functionality and reliability of the NetBeans foundation while Sun added upper layers, some of which were to be enterprise-level and proprietary. But outside developers were faster at add-ons than Sun was, and the young Eclipse (note the irony) from IBM was better at gaining market share and functionality.

MySQL’s future
But I think that MySQL has enough mass and momentum to hold its course, and the slow rate of change in the database industry may be more suited to Sun’s pace. Jonathan Schwartz said on his blog, “MySQL is by far the most popular platform on which modern developers are creating network services,” and Sun did have the long vision some fifteen years ago when it made the McLuhan-esqe proclamation that “the network is the computer.” In this age of cloud computing the network is a better-and-better bet.

The billion-dollar acquisition of MySQL by Sun also illustrates a number of truths about today’s software and open source market. The name of the game is support in one form or another. Oracle is trying to increase its support revenue to match its licensing revenue. Why? Because licensing revenue will eventually drop as open source databases become increasingly common. Sun is already offering paid support for Oracle and Postgres databases; it might as well be the go-to location for support for the most popular of the open source databases, MySQL.

As IT departments discover that database systems are taking an increasing share of the budget, more are discovering open source. Proprietary companies that want to survive will have to do it with better service and lower prices.

MySQL is an example of a disruptive technology. At first, it was too puny for the proprietary databases to notice, and satisfied only small users. But its powers grew, and the size of the companies using it also increased. It cannot match the upper limits of DB2 capability at this point, but it will be interesting to see if and when that day comes. But it doesn’t have to; it is already transforming most of the database market. May Sun invest the money (and employ the open source software developers) to take it to the top.

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