MySQL users urge Oracle to improve commitment to open source

Oracle to update MySQL plans on Tuesday

MySQL users are cautiously optimistic about life under Oracle, but say Larry Ellison's team needs to offer a more detailed road map for development of the open source database.

MySQL users are cautiously optimistic about life under Oracle, but say Larry Ellison's team needs to offer a more detailed road map for development of the open source database.

Under Sun Microsystems, MySQL development "was a little stagnant," says Rocky Appiah, vice president of technology at Epic Advertising in New York City, a heavy user of MySQL. But when asked if MySQL will improve under Oracle, Epic Advertising CIO Rick Okin says, "Ask us that after they've actually owned it for a while."

Oracle's pledges on MySQL are 'purely cosmetic', say critics

Oracle's ownership of MySQL has raised concerns because the company's primary business model hinges on a database that is not open source and competes against MySQL. MySQL creator Michael "Monty" Widenius even launched a Web-based campaign to "save" the open source database from Oracle.  

Oracle's acquisition of Sun was ultimately approved by regulatory officials after the company made 10 commitments intended to assure MySQL users that Oracle will improve the database and encourage open source community involvement, without implementing restrictive licenses.

Oracle's chief MySQL official, Edward Screven, is expected to provide more detailed insight regarding Oracle's plans to enhance the technology on Tuesday at the O'Reilly MySQL Conference & Expo in Santa Clara, Calif.

Although Oracle's ownership of Sun and MySQL is a controversial topic in the open source world, there is reason for hope. Oracle's ownership, at least at first glance, is less worrisome than Sun's, says MySQL user Matthew Abarbanel, director of technical operations at IODA in San Francisco, a digital music distributor for independent music labels.

"At least Oracle's core competency as a company is databases," he says.

Sun, long a financially unstable company, seemed to encourage MySQL users to run the database on Sun's proprietary hardware, file system, and operating system, rather than taking a technology-agnostic approach, Abarbanel says.

"There's a bit of concern because it's unclear how MySQL fits into the larger Oracle landscape," Abarbanel acknowledges. But he adds that Oracle's ownership of MySQL "makes a lot more sense than Sun. At this point, it's probably the best chance of survival for MySQL as a platform."

Still, some raise questions about putting an open source database under the control of a proprietary software vendor . Karen Tegan Padir, who was vice president of MySQL and software infrastructure at Sun, left the company after the Oracle acquisition in part because of concerns about Oracle's commitment to open source. She is now vice president of products and marketing at EnterpriseDB, where she will be working on an open source PostgreSQL databse.

"I'm an open source person. I believe in its development model," she says. "I believe products are better when they're built in open source. That's not Oracle's core business model."

Padir says she thinks customers prefer a heterogeneous data center, rather than one in which a single vendor controls multiple products. But she was reluctant to directly criticize Oracle, and syas, "I'm sure they will be a fine steward of MySQL."

Because it took almost a year for Oracle to gain approval for the acquisition of Sun, there was "no road map and uncertainty as to [MySQL's] direction," which temporarily slowed adoption, says Paul Vallee, founder of Pythian, which provides remote database administration services for clients such as IODA. But now that the acquisition has closed, MySQL adoption is strong again, he says.

"Customer willingness to adopt MySQL is back," Vallee says. "Oracle owning it is better than the limbo that was Sun. It's very safe to adopt MySQL now. You have good commercial backing, and Larry [Ellison] made some promises that he would be investing more financial resources into MySQL than Sun was at the time of the acquisition."

Oracle's list of 10 commitments to the MySQL community, published last December, includes increased spending on R&D; continued availability of storage engine APIs and periodic enhancements of MySQL's pluggable storage engine architecture; creation of a customer advisory board and a storage engine vendor advisory board; updates to the MySQL reference manual; a promise to make new versions of MySQL available under the GPL open source license; and a pledge that Oracle will not require customers to purchase support from Oracle in order to obtain a MySQL license.

Despite those commitments, Vallee says there is still uncertainty over Oracle's feelings toward MySQL.

Oracle executive Kenneth Jacobs, who managed InnoDB, a MySQL storage engine, was popular among the MySQL community. But Jacobs resigned from Oracle after the company appointed Screven to lead the MySQL business.

"We're going to miss Ken. He was a really outstanding steward of the InnoDB technology," Vallee says. Screven "is a longstanding and very successful executive inside Oracle. What we don't know is how he feels about MySQL."

Pythian had a partnership with Sun on MySQL, but that's on hold until Oracle provides some clarity on product and sales strategy, Vallee says.

Neither Epic Advertising nor IODA pay Oracle for support, but Oracle's contributions to future versions of MySQL will affect all users. Okin would like to see Oracle add more enterprise-class capabilities, but doesn't know exactly what to expect.

"It's sort of hard to know what their ultimate strategy and goal is," Okin says. "It seems to contradict their business model to give away a database when they sell a database."

Abarbanel says the worst case scenario would be if Oracle stops accepting patches from the community, but that such an event is unlikely. No one expects Oracle to put more money into MySQL than its existing, proprietary database, but Abarbanel is hoping Oracle will encourage developers' and partners' attempts to contribute to the code base.

"They have to embrace the standard open source mantra," he says.www.twitter.com/jbrodkin

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