Is it time for Oracle to donate MySQL to Apache?

Is it time for Oracle to donate MySQL to Apache?

Summary: Oracle no doubt got the bang for the big bucks it paid for MySQL via its Sun acquisition. But the original developers of MySQL won't let it die and as developers and customers begin to defect to their increasingly popular MySQL Fork -- MariaDB.


It may be time for Oracle to donate MySQL -- as it did with OpenOffice -- to The Apache Foundation, or another open source house.

It's no secret that the Redwood Shores, Calif. company acquired Sun, at least in part, to stymie growth of the rapidly advancing open source relational database and preserve the pricetag of its own proprietary databases. 

And that strategy has worked fairly well --to date. MySQL remains alive on paper but Oracle's foot dragging on development and refusal to release test cases for bugs and security patches for MySQL has reinforced its control over the code and sent hordes of open source developers to greener pastures.

But now one of those green pastures -- MariaDB -- is becoming a real threat again to Oracle's hegemony, backers of the MySQL fork maintain.

"Oracle is not positioning MySQL in the cloud or for big data," Sallner said. "They want to keep it within certain bounds so it doesn't encroach on the Oracle core business." 

As of late, top Linux distributors -- openSUSE, CentOS and Fedora -- as well as more than a few enterprise customers and major web businesses have switched to MariaDB, say executives at SkySQL, a two-year-old service and support firm founded by Monty Widenius, founder of both MySQL and its fork, MariaDB. (The databases are named for Monty's two daughters, My and Maria).

"We're seeing the first signs of a shift," said Patrik Sallner, CEO of SkySQL, noting that the majority of his enterprise customers still use MySQL but some have already defected to MariaDB and some are considering defection because Oracle has not indicated an aggressive product roadmap for MySQL.

"Oracle is not positioning MySQL in the cloud or for big data," Sallner said. "They want to keep it within certain bounds so it doesn't encroach on the Oracle core business." 

The CEO of SkySQL, which now serves 350 enterprise customers using MySQL, MariaDB and Percona in 30 countries, also claims that MariaDB -- whose next release numbering has been elevated to 10.0 to reflect its technical leapfrogging over MySQL 5.6 -- is making huge strides in the cloud and big data arena.

mySQL 5.6 debuted earlier this month and is getting solid marks. But some open source developers say the code has not progressed as quickly as it should have, in part because of the company's proprietary database assets but also because most of the original MySQL company developers are gone.

Slowing MySQL down may have been all that Ellison needed out of the Sun-MySQL deal.

A third-party channel of ISVs has cropped up to meet new requirements MySQL cannot address, Sallner said. Internet giants Google and Twitter are among those enlisting the help of MySQL ISV startups such as Codership, Calpont, and Sphinx to address their needs for higher availability, analytics and full-text search on the MySQL platform.

SkySQL, for its part, is working with LevelDB -- founded by Google developers -- to provide integration of MySQL with NoSQL databases. And it is, of course, a close, strategic partner of MariaDB.

Oracle's inability to work cooperatively with the open source MySQL community and bring MySQL up to snuff for cloud and big data advancements -- intentional or not, makes it vulnerable again to an open source rival -- and this time it's the same one, only with a different name.

The beauty of open source is that you can never really own the code, as Oracle is now aware.  Slowing MySQL down may have been all that Ellison needed out of the Sun-MySQL deal.

But as MariaDB gains steam, and the Java community grows similarly incensed with Oracle's handling of security and code releases, Oracle may have to consider a donation of MySQL to Apache or another open source code organization, somewhat ironically, to slow down the MySQL fork.

It's the age old strategy of creating fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD): enterprises that were planning the switch to MariaDB may take a second look at the orginal MySQL if it is under the guidance of Apache or another reputable organization.

Oracle has done it before: it donated its OpenOffice (acquired also via Sun) to the Apache Software Foundation in 2011.  

I'm not advocating that Oracle do this. I'm simply suggesting that Oracle should consider another strategy since the founders of MySQL are not going to let it die a slow death.

"Deploying standard Oracle policies and practices may work well in a closed source environment but it's not a good way of working with the open source community," said SkySQL's Sallner. "It seems okay from a commercial point of view but these are not good practices in open source."

He would not say how many actual enterprises have defected from MySQL to Maria DB but claims they are in the  "tens" and that many more are quietly testing out MariaDB and will switch when there is consensus that the proper service and support infrastructure is in place for MariaDB.  Either way, the migration is virtually effortless.

"There has been a lot of takeup of MariaDB and it's a good opportunity to strike at this stage," Sallner said. "Oracle has lost MySQL developers and they are replacing them with people that don't know the MySQL fundamentals. "

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Topics: Big Data, Open Source

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  • Does it matter?

    The whole question hinges upon the question of "what's in a name". I'm certain many people will want to stay with MySQL because it's a known quantity. The concept of Open Source is unique in that Oracle can simultaneously have control over it after having been sold the title, yet simultaneously the original developers can continue working on it independent of Oracle as well.

    What makes MariaDB so dangerous for Oracle is how much of a drop-in replacement for MySQL it is, such that most applications written for MySQL will work just as happily on MariaDB. Oracle hasn't had to worry about this to the same extent with Postgres going up against Oracle proper. That said, if Oracle donates MySQL to Apache or the FSF or whoever, what will it solve? If MariaDB becomes more popular than MySQL, Oracle will have lost their userbase. If Oracle donates MySQL, Oracle will have lost their userbase.

    Either way, if Oracle continues to treat MySQL solely as a defensive move against losing out on Oracle licensing, rather than an active community with which to compete with MariaDB or Postgres, then I don't see how it affects them either way to donate the code to Apache.

    Finally, OpenOffice was a significantly different situation; it would be better applied if Microsoft bought it, not Oracle. Oracle doesn't compete in the desktop productivity software market, and thus it was more a "happy accident" of getting Sun, rather than a strategic move to protect their core market. Oracle was alright to part with OpenOffice as result of this; Microsoft likely would react much differently to that situation.

  • It's what Oracle should have done all along

    Oracle couldn't kill MySQL, since the code was already freely available. It could make proprietary any code to which it held the copyright, but what would have been the point, as Oracle was already offering a proprietary database manager?

    All Oracle could really do was neglect it, risking that someone else would fork the project (which is what happened). Keeping it at the very least gave the appearance of a conflict of interest. MySQL should have been spun off as a separate foundation as soon as possible after the Sun acquisition (as I advocated at the time). Giving it to Apache or the MariaDB project is a sensible thing to do now. It is of no possible value to Oracle.
    John L. Ries
    • RE: "All Oracle could really do was neglect it"

      Neglect? It's more complicated than this. First, Oracle has made enhancements to MySQL. And, second, I don't believe that is neglect. Is Microsoft neglecting Access by keeping it firmly entrenched as a personal DBMS component of Office instead of enhancing it to compete with SQL Server? No, they're not. However, since MS Access is proprietary, no one can legally take the code and run with it.

      With MySQL, Oracle is trying to put a lid on something that they cannot. The best that they can do is to force a MariaDB fork that, ultimately, is no longer a drop-in replacement of MySQL. I suspect that this is where Oracle is headed.

      As long as MySQL continues to be profitable for Oracle, they will not donate MySQL to The Apache Software Foundation or anywhere else. If the MySQL gravy train stops, Oracle will do exactly what they did with OpenOffice (which they also, unsuccessfully, tried to monetize).
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Re: Is Microsoft neglecting Access

        Access is a toy. MySQL is not.
        • RE: Access is a toy. MySQL is not.

          Microsoft Access is really two things:

          1. A personal DBMS (thus, no multi-user support)
          2. A front-end to multi-user DBMSs, including MySQL

          Sometimes personal databases, often restricted to an individual or small group, get promoted to multi-user databases. Microsoft makes conversion from Access to SQL Server easy. And there are tools available to convert Access to open-source DBMSs such as MySQL (and PostgreSQL).

          As a front-end, a user can create and run drag-and-drop queries against a database without having to know SQL. Also, a user can create and run highly-formatted reports with the front-end, also without having to know SQL.

          P.S. I never implied that MySQL was a toy and, as far as I know, neither has Oracle.
          Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Why woud anyone care about MySQL anymore,

    Why woud anyone care about MySQL anymore, since MariaDB has already reached parity with it and is now starting to be better. It is already a capable 'drop-in' replacement. It will continue to improve and MySQL will continue to stagnate under Oracle.

    Oracle killed MySQL on purpose, that's the whole reason they were picking over Sun's corpse, but even the emaciated once-upon-a-time 800 pound gorilla couldn't kill open souce. Forget MySQL, that was the past, and set your eyes to teh future.

    There are greener pastures ahead, and Oracle scorched earth policy only defaces what they touch - not that which replaces it.

    As always, this is just my $0.02 USD as a view from a grey-haired programmer who has seen it all come and go.

  • It always struck me that Oracle took MySQL seriously

    after all, Oracle's most important business is the support and consulting services, not the binary compiled code for its programs. The people I know at Oracle take that opportunity for MySQL quite seriously.
  • not worried much

    PostgreSQL has always been far, far superior to MySQL. It's truly open source and is distributed under the BSD license. It scales about as much as Oracle's own platforms... There is plenty of community and commercial support. Commercial companies participate in the development and offer branded versions with unique features, etc.

    It is sad, that Oracle sits on top of so much good technology, most of which was developed as open source -- for example ZFS, and in effect stalls their further development. But such as open source is, it just routes around the "Oracle" obstacle and life goes on.
  • Oracle Should Donate Java As Well

    Seems like the Open Source community is beyond caring about MySQL, but there's still a chance to salvage something out of Java.
  • Time to understand

    It is time for aging dinosaurs like Larry Ellison to fully realize that open source is the future of software development. It is not a question if open source will triumph over proprietary, closed source software - only, when that will happen. It is an enterpreneurial tragedy to see how Oracle is destroying Open Office, MySQL and Java but it is good for the open source world to support free and innovative projects like MariaDB.
  • MySQL is alive and kicking!

    I think you are missing the point.
    Oracle gave away OpenOffice mostly because it was losing money. It had been losing money even with Sun, but they did not have the guts of doing anything.
    With MySQL, instead, not only Oracle is making money, but they are actively developing and growing the team.
    The latest release, MySQl 5.6, is by far the greatest improvement in MySQL features and performance since MySQL 5.0. Dismissing this effort as a minor accomplishment is plain wrong.
  • MariaDB back to the root

    When you list your photos on on your hard disk you don't expect that it ls compute and implemented inside every file system. Taking such simple technical direction was one major reason MySQL get popularity without reaching limit to possible expansion, splitting SQL, replication, authentification, storage in a proper architecture. MariaDB stay focus on such simple path, Oracle bring MySQL back to an obscure database architecture with very business oriented decision, InnoDB for the web users, cluster for telecom, and an MSSQL look and feel release. This will never be good for the beauty and superiority of open source code and the best owner of any open source product should take care of the architecture and not focusing on how to make money out of it. Benchmarks or features list to demonstrate how MySQL as improved under Oracle ownership will never prove software superiority. So expecting many users to join the MariaDB community for technical reason of the long run benefit. Guiseppe i fully agree that some code produce by some very good developers have been push in MySQL 5.6, the overall direction is just not mine and only time will tell the end of this story.
    Stéphane Varoqui
  • Is It Time

    I'd like to know where you get your facts to make the declarative statement: "It's no secret that the Redwood Shores, Calif. company acquired Sun, at least in part, to stymie growth of the rapidly advancing open source relational database and preserve the pricetag of its own proprietary databases."
    I believe this is just the author's opinion and should be stated as such.
  • Is it Time

    Stéphane Varoqui
  • Is it Time

    Your link bolsters my statement that the author is opining. The article you provide and links within it state that "Oracle's business case for the merger depends on keeping MySQL to
    make the merger economically viable, since Oracle plans to expand
    the market for MySQL and its associated support contracts;". I don't see how this satisfies an author saying that Oracle's "secret" is to stymie opensource or MySQL in favor of its own proprietary database. You appear to misguided as all the other naysayers out there. Oracle is the target because it does well - makes good products and puts up good numbers for shareholders - making others want to see it fail. It is the age old story of jealousy and envy.