Open source users assess Sun update of MySQL

Although Sun Microsystems Inc.’s announcement of the pending general availability of the newest version of MySQL is seen as a “positive sign” by one open source advocate, concerns linger over how the company might influence the MySQL community footprint.

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User skeptical of Sun’s MySQL takeover

The main enhancements in version 5.1 are aimed at helping businesses scale very large applications, in particular enterprise 2.0 applications. The three main enterprise enhancements are table and index data partitioning; row-based and hybrid replication; and, faster performance and throughput.

The prompt release of version 5.1, following Sun’s acquisition of the open source database company in February, shows that “MySQL isn’t languishing,” said open source entrepreneur Chris Messina in an e-mail to ComputerWorld Canada. “But the thornier questions are really around how Sun is changing MySQL’s community footprint,” he said, adding that he’s seen a marked difference in the MySQL site that used to be cleaner and easier to navigate.

“Recently when I tried to find the MySQL installer for OSX, I had a helluva time getting around the new site and getting to what I needed,” he wrote.

Given that additional versions will continue to emerge as long as the technology remains relevant, Messina isn’t so interested in the database’s latest version as he is in Sun’s ability to maintain the community around MySQL. “While the underlying core technology may continue to improve, will Sun be able to become a positive steward of the community and allow it to remain ‘sovereign’ (in a sense) or will it undermine the positive and more friendly identity that MySQL has had in recent years?,” questioned Messina.

Russell McOrmond, policy coordinator with the Canadian Association for Open Source and an IT World Canada blogger, said a large vendor like Sun will encourage companies to adopt MySQL given the perception of more robust product support. However, on the flip side, long-time open source advocates will continue to be skeptical given “some missteps” committed by Sun in the past. “So there are these competing things happening,” said McOrmond.

And although Sun has been working with the open source community for a long time, McOrmond fears that it has yet to understand the concept of community involvement.

Zack Urlocker, vice-president of products for Sun’s database group, said he’s aware of the concerns among the open source community, but reiterated that Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz has said the acquisition of MySQL held no hidden agenda and that the goal was not to change MySQL.

Urlocker added that although Sun used to be proprietary, it’s since been heavily involved in the open source community. “You can’t steer a big ship like that overnight, but they are headed in the right direction,” he said.

Another Vancouver-based open source advocate consultant Boris Mann, is pleased to see Sun is committing to open source across its product line and certainly has “everything from services to hardware to back it up, which just makes it easier for large enterprises to adopt open source.”

Furthermore, Sun’s support should help raise the profile of open source databases in general, which “struggle with marketing perception against Oracle and MS SQL”, said Mann.

Open source technologies may already have a place in the enterprise, but MySQL definitely “raised the bar”, said Urlocker. He cited the use of the open source database by such companies as Amazon, eBay and Travelocity to run mission-critical applications.

And, according to Urlocker, MySQL has “never aimed to replace” Oracle and Microsoft’s database products and isn’t trying to migrate customers of those products to MySQL. MySQL may not possess the range of functionality that rival databases do, but the goal is to offer a “simple” database that’s easy to manage and that provides good performance at a smaller cost.

McOrmond noted that while MySQL is up against Microsoft and Oracle in the enterprise space, the emergence of cloud computing, for instance, will mean those rivals’ technology will soon become legacy anyway. “It will really be competition between open source databases that will define the future,” he said.

MySQL v. 5.1 will be available in three flavours: MySQL Enterprise Server, MySQL Community Server, and MySQL Embedded Server. A near-final release of the GPL software is available for download at

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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