Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sun buys MySQL, what does it mean when open source is bought?

logo_mysql_sun.gifMySQL has been a hugely popular database and is unambiguously the M in LAMP. (Whereas the P could be Perl, Python or PHP). That must annoy the Postgres folks.

Certainly I've had good success with MySQL over the years, for me, it just works, easy to install, easy to use and seems really fast. Sure it used to miss some of the SQL that others had but frankly I rarely ran in to anything I couldn't do or find a way to get around.

So on January 16 it was announced that Sun has purchased "the developer" of MySQL. But MySQL is open source, so anyone can get the source and work on it. What does it mean when a company buys an open source project?

There are some other examples of companies buying open source developers:

  • Apple bought CUPS printing

  • RedHat bought JBoss

  • RedHat was open source but they bought themselves I guess

  • Oracle bought Sleepycat which commercialised Berkeley DB (probably mostly legacy due to sqlite)

  • Citrix bought XenSource

  • Sun bought VitualBox

So what will it mean for MySQL? I had a look at what's happened to VirtualBox since Sun aquired Innotek and the first thing you notice is that they announced on February 12, 2008 they announced it for OpenSolaris. There are only a few posts in the forum so I guess there's not a lot of interest so far.

I'm just speculating here, but I have worked for a major web company that switched many hundreds of servers from Solaris to Linux (a stripped down RedHat distro) and reportedly was happy and saved a significant amount of money. Sun must have been devastated by the success and acceptance of Linux as a server operating system. If I want to run up a web server then Linux/Apache is the way to go today.

What could they do? RedHat split into the free Fedora and the commercially supported RedHat Enterprise with great success and I assume that Sun copied that strategy with Solaris and OpenSolaris.

Presumably the MySQL developers will be tasked with making MySQL run best on Solaris, so in a few years if you want a robust, supported MySQL database you'll choose Solaris/MySQL. That's the theory, but there's a big community of folks who like MySQL on Linux and they'll be looking closely to bring any improvements over to Linux and FreeBSD.

I'm starting to wonder if the days of the SQL databases is coming to an end. With Google's BigTable and Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) plus the fact that these days we always talk to the backend via some sort of Object Relational Mapper service, perhaps we won't care so much about the SQL capabilities any more.

1 comment:

ben said...

Sun was a services company long before Redhat was even founded. What Redhat and the like have proven, however, is that a free and open source version of a product allows barriers to entry to lower and services revenue flows as the user seeks security around that product.

e.g. As a startup, what database will I choose? Expensive Oracle or free MySQL? As the business grows I can then afford to purchase support and services to help scale.

Sun is definitely into this in a big way. OpenSolaris to gather interest in Solaris. OpenSparc to gather interest in Sparc (and hopefully better compilers as a result). OpenOffice and StarOffice. OpenJDK and Java (although Jonathan's argument about monetising Java doesn't make sense to me).

I don't think that Sun is aiming to make MySQL run best on Solaris. They're simply becoming a large open source company and chasing the revenue that flows from it.

Perhaps Sun were a bit naive in buying MySQL given Google's BigTable and Amazon's SimpleDB, but I'd imagine that there's still massive interest in relational databases. Can you run a billing system on SimpleDB?