SkySQL-MariaDB merger: What should you expect?

How will the planned merger between MariaDB creator Monty Program DB and support firm SkySQL strengthen the hand of the open-source fork in the wider MySQL world? We talk to the new company's CEO.
Written by Toby Wolpe, Contributor

This week's merger of SkySQL and MariaDB will raise the credibility of the open-source database among big organisations, according to the new company's CEO — which in turn will help it develop beyond its internet heartland with new features for cloud and big-data uses.

SkySQL CEO Patrik Sallner said organisations hesitating about MariaDB, because they were not sure about its longer term future, would now be more likely to migrate.

"Now, there is a more solid company behind it. There is both a company and a foundation and those — looking at many other open-source projects — are the pillars for successful growth both in adoption among the community and among enterprises," he said.

Sallner argued that the aim of the merged company, whose 350 MySQL and MariaDB enterprise customers help evolve the database through their ideas and requests, is to make MariaDB the leading independent and interoperable open-source database.

"'Independent' is important here because there are obviously other open source databases out there. But in fact today, if you look at the database market as a whole, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft control the vast majority of the databases deployed in companies," Sallner said.

"Since MySQL is now heavily affiliated with Oracle, many companies don't feel it offers an independent platform for them to interface effectively with because of the strategic relationship," he said.

"There seems to be a white space in the marketplace for somebody to provide a solution that is very neutral and interoperable and allows companies to build bridges between the various other data stores that they have and effectively harness that data then for use in new applications."

NoSQL database integration

Sallner cited MariaDB's pluggable storage engines that allow it to be integrated with a number of NoSQL database systems such as Cassandra and LevelDB, and the Connect storage engine which enables MariaDB to interface with legacy databases.

"We believe this functionality will be attractive to many enterprises, especially larger ones that have diverse infrastructures because it allows them to access the data residing in many different formats and sometimes not even residing in databases," Sallner said.

"For example, LDAP information is something that has been something of a silo of itself and we are now looking at potentially building interfaces in that direction as well," he added.

"Many new applications are building on big-data access and the richness that you can extract from that. The combination here of interfacing with different databases and also having the storage engine towards the big-data NoSQL deployments will make for attractive new opportunities to be built round the MariaDB code."

Continued compatibility of MariaDB and MySQL

While interoperability is one area for future development, another ongoing project is ensuring the continued compatibility of MariaDB with MySQL so that moving from MySQL to MariaDB remains easy.

"The foundation really has a mission to ensure that the merges with MySQL are taking place successfully, and that is in the interest of many of our customers as well," Sallner said.

He added that a third important area is the performance of the database itself, and finding improvements for, say, cloud environments and in distributed architectures.

"We are now seeing huge workloads in many companies which simply require improvements in many areas of performance," he said.

As far as MariaDB replacing MySQL in the LAMP web server stack, Sallner pointed out that it has already done just that in a number of Linux distros — including Fedora and openSUSE.

"There are many other important environments in addition to the web stack. The cloud stack is a notable example where we're working now with the leading cloud providers — Amazon, Rackspace, HP and a lot of hosting providers as well — to see how they could also start adopting MariaDB," Sallner said.

"Much of the product development that's been going on the SkySQL side to date has been focused on cloud enablement. We've built a suite of tools that allow you to deploy, manage and monitor databases effectively in cloud environments and in these hybrid infrastructures that bridge the on-premise datacentres with the cloud."

Oracle's take on the merger

Sallner declined to be drawn on Oracle's possible reaction to the merger, but said relations with the Oracle MySQL development team are good.

"I see an openness that I haven't seen in the past year since I joined this activity and a willingness to dialogue and discuss. It's very good for the broader community and the ecosystem around MySQL. There's a richness now of different players that are driving different strategies. We're definitely not aiming to compete head-on with MySQL," he said.

"They have a certain customer base and plans of their own and we intend to develop MariaDB in a direction that allows us to bring more value to the market and identify the right customers who have those needs. There's definitely more than enough space for all of us. I don't think the Oracle team have been looking too specifically [at us] — we're still very small in their proportions as a player."

Sallner said if the new company were to spark a change in Oracle's attitudes, that would be an achievement in itself.

"It would be to the good of the broader community, so I would be happy if they made that decision. There are a lot of open-source projects within Oracle that could benefit enormously from increased openness and I don't think there's much of a downside to it, so let's see," he said.

The merger reunites key figures behind the development of MySQL, acquired by Sun Microsystems in 2008 for $1bn, which was then bought by Oracle for $7.4bn in 2010. By that point some of the database's original creators had already left to produce the MariaDB fork while others formed the SkySQL support firm in 2010.

Most demanding MySQL and MariaDB users

The new company will be able to offer key account management to the largest and most demanding MySQL and MariaDB users, which should prove a source of innovation of new features for the broader MariaDB project, according to Sallner.

"For large enterprises that are using MySQL and MariaDB, some of them develop their own patches or further features on top of the basic database. It's a good opportunity for us to help them maintain and develop those patches and the specific features they need for the database," he said.

The MariaDB Foundation, of which MySQL and MariaDB creator Michael 'Monty' Widenius will be CTO, is looking to involve a number of other sponsors for financial support and to contribute code and developers to the broader project.

"We're expecting some leading IT and internet companies that are using MySQL and MariaDB to be involved. Many of them have teams of developers who are developing MySQL functionality for their inhouse needs," Sallner said.

"It's common practice for such teams to assign a person to work full time for a foundation so that they can participate actively in the work and hence be more aware of what is happening in other organisations and the latest developments in the code — and, of course, then contributing to the collaborative effort to develop the product further," he said.

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