Should MySQL users stay or go?

Will Oracle Corp.’s purchase of Sun Microsystems Inc. ruin MySQL or will the deal bode well for the popular open-source database.

MySQL users and analyst remain divided on the issue and not a few are unsure of what the future holds.

“You can’t be certain about what will happen. I can only hope that Oracle would not be very disruptive to the free version of MySQL,” says Mark Geurtin, strategic director of Brain Web Solutions, an Etobicoke, Ont-based Website building company.

Geurtin, who uses MySQL’s free version for a lot of Web development work for large enterprise and small and medium-sized business (SMB) clients, is worried that Oracle’s enterprise and proprietary software orientation might tamper with his favourite tool.

One of MySQL’s prime attractions is that nearly all of its features are available for free, even those running production databases. Less than one in 1,000 MySQL users ever pay the company a dime. It’s a cozy set-up that Geurtin and other developers in the same boat would hate to say goodbye to.

Learn more about Oracle and Sun

Oracle – Sun Microsystem merger resource centre

Geurtin was similarly worried when Sun tookover MySQL following a surprise US$1-billion acquisition last year. He was among the chorus of Canadian MySQL users that feared the Sun takeover would “muck things up.”

“I’m happy my fears didn’t come true then,’ Geurtin said.

The Etobicoke Web developer is hoping that Oracle will remain content with concentrating on the enterprise-side of the database arena and leave MySQL pretty much alone. “There will probably a move to push MySQL’s commercial version more and leave the free version as is. Of course these could mean there will be less development effort for the free version.”

Recent tweets, however are more anxious if not downright snarky:

“Man, Oracle buying Sun. Please don’t wreck MySQL.”

“Soon MySQL will be called Oracle Lite and to download you must have a support contract costing a million $ per year.”

“Oracle now owns MySQL?! In related news, the Rebel Alliance has been acquired by Darth Vader for three wookies and a tantan. :(”

One Canadian technology analyst thinks Oracle’s acquisition of Sun will have a positive effect on the Santa Clara, Calif-based maker of Java and OpenSolaris and open source software in general.

“Sun was in a bit of financial trouble before, but the acquisition will relieve some of that pressure. Most users of Sun’s open apps will also see more consistent performance and support,” said Andy Woyzbun, lead analyst for Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

He said this will be a boon for many Canadian businesses such as local telcos that are using Sun products in back office operations and network management.

With a company like Oracle, endorsing Sun products, Woyzbun said open source software in general “will benefit from a greater degree of credibility.”

Donald Feinberg, another Gartner analyst, said that Oracle might port its existing technology into MySQL to “harden” the database, a boon for enterprise users.

Oracle could also bring firmer direction to MySQL, which is disorganized even by open-source standards. For instance, three different versions of MySQL are being developed today — two of which are “forks” of the official Sun-backed version.

“Oracle [has] phenomenally good product managers. This is not MySQL’s strong suit,” said Paul Vallee, executive chairman of database support provider The Pythian Group.

Vallee, whose firm primarily supports Oracle and MySQL databases, said that Oracle’s reputation is misplaced. Its track record with its recent open-source acquisitions has been positive.

With InnoDB, the popular MySQL storage engine that Oracle acquired three years ago, many of the company’s key employees stayed at Oracle and the technology has continued to improve, he said.

Sun tried last year to edge toward a dual distribution model, reserving certain key features for paying customers. It quickly backed down after an outcry.

Don’t expect Oracle to be as abashed as Sun.

“Companies think ‘price increases’ and ‘usage audits’ when they think of Oracle,” said Ed Boyajian, CEO of database vendor EnterpriseDB Inc.

Oracle will always have to at least nominally support the free community edition of MySQL, the one that has generated more than 100 million downloads.

But given Oracle’s rapacious reputation, users who have invested their time mostly in MySQL should expect to be strongly pressured to open up their wallets.

“Oracle claims in their release they can wring more profit out of existing Sun assets, but history shows this will largely come out of users’ pockets,” said Roger Burkhardt, CEO of open-source database provider Ingres Corp.

Microsoft Corp., whose SQL Server competes fiercely with both Oracle and MySQL, tried to be subtle while sounding the same alarm.

“Customers should ask themselves if this will add more complexity and cost to their environments at a time when the industry is asking for more clarity and value,” said Neil Charney, general manager for application platform and developer tools at Microsoft.

Oracle could achieve this through several tactics done in concert. First, it could steer MySQL’s development away from features such as scalable clustering, said John Newton, CTO of content management software vendor, Alfresco Software.

That would be fine for Web developers, who make up the bulk of MySQL users today, but it would be bad news for would-be enterprise users, he said.

Second, it could create compatibility layers for users to migrate from MySQL to Oracle, and then unleash the Oracle salespeople on them.

“We would expect Oracle to treat MySQL as an on-ramp to the pricier, proprietary portions of the database lineup,” Boyajian said. “It will be interesting to see how much up-selling pressure Oracle puts on MySQL users.”

But will MySQL users be forced to switch to Oracle?

“I’d be surprised if that happened, as there would be a lot of upset customers,” said Gartner Inc. analyst Kenneth Chin.

“I haven’t seen InnoDB’s position erode under Oracle’s stewardship,” Vallee said. Others argued that contrary to appearances, most MySQL users are not up in arms over Oracle’s takeover.

“There’s a vocal minority that will say a lot about this. But MySQL has an installed base of 12 million,” said Mickos in an interview with Forbes on Monday. “You and I pay attention to this stuff, but lots of developers probably don’t even know MySQL is owned by Sun.”

Still, for the users who decide to abandon MySQL, where would they go? Newton said another open-source database, PostGres, stands to benefit the most. “

PostGres in many ways competes with Oracle

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