Canadian MySQL users sceptical of Sun takeover

Canadian IT professionals sounded dubious about the future of open source database firm MySQL following its surprise US$1-billion acquisition Wednesday by Sun Microsystems.

Executives from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun said they will move quickly to integrate the 400 employees of MySQL – which is based in Sweden but has operations in more than 25 countries – into its software, sales and service organizations.

MySQL has made a name for itself as a freely available database often offered through Web hosting companies and favoured by PHP designers. Sun made note of the fact that MySQL is the “M” in LAMP, an acronym used to describe an all-open source software “stack” also consisting of Linux, Apache and PHP. Major customers include both Google and Facebook, Sun said. Its Canadian customers include oil-drilling instrument firm Pason Systems and the B.C. Cancer Agency.

MySQL’s only problem, Sun Microsystems chief executive Jonathan Schwartz told a conference call, was its perceived lack of support, despite the fact that it was through subscription-based support packages that MySQL made most of its money. Sun, he suggested, will provide the kind of reassurance IT managers need to make MySQL a more standard part of enterprise infrastructure.

“This is reaffirming Sun’s position at the centre of the Web. We view ourselves as a platform for the Web economy,” he said.

MySQL CEO Marten Mickos, who will stay on to join Sun’s executive team, said the company’s real entry into the enterprise space began with version five of its product, which was launched more than two years ago and included stored procedures to embed business logic, among other features.

“This is an enforcement of a roadmap we’ve been on for a long time,” he said. “It will be sped up by the fact we now have better resources, more resources, and the ability to work more closely with Sun to build more scale, more performance.”

Alexey Kovyrin, a Toronto consultant specializing in MySQL work, said Sun’s acquisition of MySQL took him off-guard.

“It was really unexpected,” he said. “Most of our clients work with cheap hardware. I don’t think they will like to migrate to Sun’s hardware.” That’s because many firms use commodity servers to scale out as their database needs evolve, Kovyrin said.

Some users may hope that Sun’s dual-core servers will solve some of MySQL’s performance issues, Kovyrin added, but he thought it was too soon to assess the impact.

Mark Geurtin, strategic director at Etobicoke, Ont.-based BrainWeb Solutions, does a lot of work in MySQL but said Sun often “mucks up anything it tries to do,” and he didn’t think the takeover would do much to help the database firm’s installed base.

“To me, it almost seems like Sun is looking for new revenue streams, basically,” he said. “This is something to come back and compete with in the enterprise market on some front, and I think that this would be a reasonable way to do it.”

Rich Green, Sun’s executive vice-president of software, said MySQL’s “pluggable database technology components” was among the attractions behind the acquisition.

“One of the brilliant design changes they made was to put different types of database behaviours into modules that support other functions,” he said, using database functions specific to the telecommunications industry as an example. “The breadth of markets that can be served was a critical consideration.”

Sun also supports its own Java DB and the other major open source database, PostgreSQL, but the MySQL takeover won’t change that, Green added.

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