MySQL hosts database user show

MySQL AB is threw its first user conference last month in San Jose, Calif., promoting its open source database as a viable, more affordable alternative to products from Oracle Corp., IBM Corp. and the other top database vendors.

The Swedish company boasts 4 million installations of its product worldwide, many of which are at small businesses and government agencies that have downloaded the software for free. It claims to have 4,000 paying customers, including such names as Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc., which has embedded MySQL in some of its networking products.

The company has what it calls a dual licensing strategy. Customers can download its software for free, in which case they’re required to make any improvements they make freely available to others, in a traditional open source model. They can also pay for the software, in which case they can keep their modifications private. The company also sells support services.

Its goal for the coming year is to evolve its database with new features and better performance, to partner with more applications and tools vendors to expand the ecosystem around MySQL, and to add new support, training and certification services for customers, said Marten Mickos, the company’s chief executive officer, in a speech.

“Performance is always number one. MySQL is and shall be the fastest performing database. We’ll always keep that our number one priority,” he said.

The product lacks many features found in products from the leading database vendors, but MySQL’s goal isn’t to replace every instance of an Oracle, IBM, Microsoft Corp. and Sybase Inc. database, Mickos said. Rather, it sees a role for itself alongside databases from those vendors in what are already heterogeneous database environments.

“It’s analogous to what’s happening with Linux. Everybody says they’re switching to Linux, but the reality is that most companies run it in a mixed environment where they also have mainframes and they also have Windows and Unix. They’re not abandoning those platforms, they’re deciding which places it makes sense to replace them,” he said.

The company faces several hurdles to wider adoption, particularly among enterprise customers, said Rick Cattell, deputy chief technology officer for software at Sun Microsystems Inc., who spoke at the MySQL user conference about opportunities and challenges for open source.

“Here’s the challenge: Enterprise adoption depends on having key applications that the CIO wants, and on the perceived risks of using open source. Those are the key issues that you need to address,” he said.

Big businesses tend to be conservative shoppers, Cattell noted. They prefer to deal with larger vendors because they feel more confident that they’ll still be in business in five years’ time, and they are wary of using a product when its source code is being modified constantly by developers around the world.

“Great technology is a great start, but it doesn’t guarantee you success,” Cattell said.

MySQL has emerged as the best known open-source database and the company hopes to benefit from the momentum behind open source begun by Apache and Linux. It will stick closely to the community spirit associated with open source development, Mickos said, and will offer a GPL license for every product it develops. At the same time, MySQL is unashamedly out for profit.

“Affordability is a key notion. We think we can produce (software) for you at a price no one else can match. But at the same time, we’re no charity,” he said. The company’s dual licensing model is “the only system that makes it possible for us to be a complete GPL company and at the same time build a sustainable, profitable business,” he added.

MySQL tripled both its sales and its employee count last year, Mickos said, and now has about 70 employees in 15 countries. Its product is being downloaded from its Web site 29,000 times each day, he said. Earlier this week it distributed the source code to an “alpha” release of MySQL Version 4.0.1, adding a raft of features including subqueries, derived tables and support for OpenGIS.

It won’t commit to release dates for its products, saying it will release them when they are ready. That’s only one of the ways in which it differs from other vendors. Until recently MySQL had no official office space. When it did open its first office two years ago, the space remained empty for 10 months, Mickos said. Today, most of its employees still work from home or at customer sites.

With growth comes challenges. MySQL gets so much e-mail from developers these days that it can’t keep up with it all, Mickos said. The company’s customer base also is shifting toward those who want services to help them install and manage their software.

“We’ll continue to increase our breadth of services….Many of our existing users just wanted to download the software themselves, they enjoyed it. But now they’re saying, ‘Spare me the details. Just tell me what the cost is and we’ll pay you to do the job.'”


What the industry is saying about MySQL:

“MySQL is and shall be the fastest performing database. We’ll always keep that our number one priority.” Marten Mickos, CEO of MySQL

“Great technology is a great start, but it doesn’t guarantee you success.” Rick Cattrel, deputy CTO, Sun Microsystems.