Open-source MariaDB, a MySQL fork, challenges Oracle

MariaDB, the MySQL fork database management system, is throwing down the gauntlet to Oracle by forming a foundation to promote its alternative DBMS software.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
MariaDB is challenging Oracle and MySQL.

MariaDB, an open-source database management system (DBMS) and MySQL fork has been gaining inroads in enterprise software and its founders formed a foundation, the MariaDB Foundation, to promote its software.

Specifically, "the MariaDB Foundation exists to improve database technology, including standards implementation, interoperability with other databases, and building bridges to other types of database such as transactional and NoSQL. To deliver this the Foundation provides technical work in reviewing, merging, testing, and releasing the MariaDB product suite. The Foundation also provides infrastructure for the MariaDB project and the user and developer communities."

This might strike you as much ado about nothing. What's another DBMS in a world where Oracle owns the most popular open-source DBMS: MySQL? What makes it noteworthy is that a year after Sun brought MySQL in 2008 for a billion dollars, Michael 'Monty' Widenius, MySQL's founder went his own way and started his own fork of the DBMS. Today, we know that fork as MariaDB.

According to Widenius, MariaDB is faster, more secure and has more features than MySQL. Sergei Golubchik, MariaDB's VP of architecture, also argues that Oracle is slowing turning MySQL into a closed source program.

Thus, as far as the MariaDB crew are concerned, “MariaDB continues the project started 18 years ago when we founded MySQL, with code maintained by the same dedicated core team. The time is right for an independent organization to to safeguard the interests of MariaDB users and developers as we head towards MariaDB 10.” 

In a statement, Widenius said, "Tens of millions of users rely on MariaDB and MySQL and they have more to thank than just all the excellent developers and persons helping to package and distribute MariaDB and MySQL. MariaDB exists thanks to the strength of the GPL and the efforts of the organizations who defend it such as our friends at the Software Freedom Conservancy and the Free Software Foundation Europe. The MariaDB Foundation will provide leadership on technical, legal, and policy matters of interest to all the community."

Will any of this matter? It depends on who you ask. Dan Kusnetzky, a ZDNet columnist, and well-regarded analyst thinks, "They face an entrenched community that our already using MySQL and might not see a need to move or even consider an alternative."

Matt Asay, VP of corporate strategy for 10gen, makers of MongoDB, a NoSQL DBMS, believes, however, that this just shows that, "No company ever truly 'buys' an open-source project; at least, not without also undertaking the responsibility for nurturing its community. Oracle seems to have thought it was acquiring MySQL, the company, when it acquired Sun, and that this would be worth the same even if the company didn't take care of MySQL, the community. In this it was wrong. The MySQL database is only as valuable as the community around it and Oracle, trying to monetize its MySQL asset, has put cash before community, too stringently gating access to the MySQL code through enterprise subscription agreements. The best functionality is now hidden. Every company needs to sell, but Oracle has sold out MySQL's community in the process."

Bill Weinberg, Senior Director of Olliance Services, an open-source consulting company, said, "The coming together of the MariaDB Foundation to serve the worldwide user and developer base of MariaDB (aka. MySQL) is testimony to the resourcefulness and flexibility of open source software. MariaDB joins a handful of foundations formed around key OSS technologies – Linux, Apache, the FSF, and most recently OpenStack – to bolster community-based development and foster multiple support channels and business models around a strategic code base. It's a good thing for everyone"

Oracle, even as it might make use of MariaDB code in MySQL, might beg to differ.

Weinberg continued, "From its initial release in 1995, this code has always been 'multi-sourced,' becoming ubiquitous through the efforts of its commercial suppliers (MySQL, Sun, Oracle, SkySQL, et al.), from direct access to community repositories, from inclusion in all popular Linux distributions, and from its integral role in the fundamental LAMP stack that powers enterprise data centers and vast swaths of the web. It has survived nominal forking (Drizzle), etc.) by adhering to core design principles, APIs [application programming interfaces] and by emphasizing interoperability."

So it is that Weinberg believes that "the MariaDB foundation will help align the various commercial and free versions of MySQL by providing neutral ground for innovation and a shared road-map for evolution. The Foundation, if successful, will represent a change in center of gravity, but rather than negatively impacting any one organization, its existence will enable large and small players to compete openly to add value to a shared MySQL project."

Related Stories:

Editorial standards