Is it time for Oracle to donate MySQL to Apache?

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.
Written by Paula Rooney, Contributor

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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