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A Report Card for Oracle: How Is It Managing MySQL?

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What does it mean for IBM i?

 

When Oracle bought Sun Microsystems in 2010, one of the questions on everyone's mind was what Oracle would do with the multitudinous software properties that Oracle absorbed. Not the least of these was the incredibly popular open-source relational database management system (RDBMS) called MySQL.

 

MySQL had clearly become pervasive on the Internet when Oracle acquired it. TYPO3, MODx, Joomla!, WordPress, phpBB, MyBB, Drupal, and many other software suites all used MySQL as an important infrastructural component. Extremely valuable websitesincluding Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTubewere all deeply reliant upon MySQL. Would Oracle maintain the kind of support that open-source developers required?

 

For IBM i customers, the issue was also important, even though the IBM i uses the DB2 for i database. Here's why.

MySQL and the IBM i

In 2007, the originator of MySQLa company called MySQL ABannounced an agreement with IBM to port the open-source database to the IBM i. This agreement permitted the development of a product called IBMDB2I, essentially an API that lets DB2 for i act as the storage engine for MySQL database tables.

 

IBM had great hopes for MySQL because the IBMDB2I product would allow applications written to MySQL (Joomla!, WordPress, etc.) to run on IBM i with the data stored in DB2 for i.

 

The announcement seemed almost too good to be true for IBM i developers. IBMDB2I would allow developers to implement online transactional MySQL applicationsusing open-source applications freely available on the webwhile storing all data in a single, easy-to-manage DB2 database. This announcement looked like a win-win for everyone.

The Selling of MySQL

Then, less than a year later, in 2008, the Sun Microsystems Corporation purchased MySQL AB in a deal reported to be worth $1 billion. Suddenly the potential for MySQL on the IBM i started to look a bit iffy. But it was just a little more than a year later that the real bombshell hit.

 

In 2009, Sun announced its own agreement to be purchased for a price of $7.4 billion. The deal, finalized in January of 2010, shook IBM i customers as well as open-source software developers. The new owner of Sun Microsystemsand the inheritor of the MySQL development processwas none other than the Oracle Corporation.

 

Oracle, the developer of the Oracle RDBMSthe world's most popular commercial databasewould now also own the world's most popular open-source database: MySQL.

Conflict of Interest?

For the open-source community, the conflict of interest seemed obvious. The only question was how soon Oracle would unravel MySQL's developer community.

 

The answer to these questions came quickly. On December 7, 2010, Oracle announced the End of Life (EOL) of MySQL binaries it developed for several operating systems, including i5/OS V5R4, IBM i version 6.1, AIX version 5.3, Red Hat Enterprise Linux version 3, SuSE Enterprise Linux version 9, OpenSuSE Linux version 9, and the generic X86 Linux distribution developed with Intel's ICC compiler. The EOL announcements covered all versions of the MySQL database, including the binaries for the free community edition and the for-fee enterprise and commercial editions.

 

It also included the IBMDB2I product. In one fell swoop, it had become clear to many in the open-source development space that their worst fears were coming to pass: Oracle was intending to "starve" MySQL support and development.

MySQL: Where Are We Now?

So where are we now, three years later?

 

According to statistics compiled by the Austrian IT consulting firm DB-Engines.com, Oracle and MySQL are still in a neck-and-neck race for the title of "Most Popular RDBMS" followed by Microsoft SQL Server. What's curious is that the measured popularity of both Oracle and MySQL is falling, while the measured popularity of Microsoft SQL Server is currently rising. (IBM DB2 is fifth in popularity by DB-Engine calculations.)

 

Does this trend represent something significant? Probably not. "Popularity" as measured by DB-Engines merely reflects how the names of these databases are being mentioned in articles and job listings on the Internet, and the statistics have been compiled for only about a year. It's not a measurement of the number of installed RDBMSs.

What Open-Source Developers Are Saying

The MySQL company today, as run by Oracle, is still an extremely active organization, providing products and delivering fixes and updates to MySQL. Release 5.6 debuted in February of this year, and it's getting some good press. New connectors to .NET, ODBC, and Python were announced in June. Oracle continues to sponsor seminars, webcasts, and training, and the demand for education about MySQL continues to be robust. At present, the MySQL website lists a full array of products, with MySQL 5.6 support for most of the latest versions of the most popular operating systems.

 

But today, many Oracle skeptics are calling for Oracle to donate MySQL to the Apache Software Foundation or some other open-source software organization. Why?

 

Oracle's refusal to release the technical test cases for bugs and security patches for MySQL has reinforced the perspective of many developers that Oracle's real intention is to starve MySQL of resources. Other open-source developers say the code has not progressed as quickly as it should have, in part because most of the original MySQL company developers are now gone. These developers seem to want the same developer community that fostered the original development of MySQL, and they wish Oracle would simply relinquish the intellectual property that it absorbed when it bought Sun.

 

But Oracle doesn't seem likely to make such a donation to Apache or any other open-source foundation. Oracle seems intent on continuing MySQL in the same tradition that it handles all of its acquired software pieces. And perhaps that's what has developers worried.

MySQL for IBM i Rescued by Zend

As for MySQL on the IBM i platform, there has been significant progress. Last year Zend Communications, originator of PHP, released its own compilation of the MySQL stack for the IBM i. This was one of the first "forks" in the development evolution of MySQL, as it has now become a separate database product called Zend DBi. Zend DBi is included in Zend's enterprise-ready PHP technology stack for IBM i. Zend also includes the IBMDB2I code, which is still being supported with help from IBM.

 

This incredibly important effort by Zend has once and for all removed any uncertainty within the IBM i community about the future of MySQL on the IBM i platform.

Other MySQL Futures

However, the future of MySQL on the other computing platforms still worries many in the open-source community. This uncertainty has inspired the originator of MySQL, Michael "Monty" Widenius, to start another company.

 

This company, called Monty Program Ab, is on a mission to secure the future functionality of MySQL outside the control of the Oracle Corporation. Monty Program Ab has created an open-source project fork of MySQL called MariaDB, a database that's designed to be an enhanced drop-in replacement for MySQL.

 

MariaDB.org is supported by the non-profit MariaDB Foundation and licenses through the open-source GPL license. In April of 2013, Monty Program Ab merged with SkySQL, a provider of open-source products. It's the intention of SkySQL and Monty Program Ab to make MariaDB the solution to the dilemma that the open-source developer community feels it has experienced with Oracle's stewardship of MySQL.

 

And this strategy seems to be gaining some momentum. Already, the list of converts to MariaDB includes Wikipedia, Mozilla, openSUSE, andas of June 15Red Hat Linux. Fedora Linux is also considering the switch from MySQL. The interest in MariaDB appears to be growing, driven primarily by an almost unnatural distrust of Oracle's plans for MySQL within the open-source community.

A Report Card for Oracle on MySQL

So how should we grade Oracle's management of MySQL? It's not an easy judgment.

 

If you're an IT shop considering an open-source database, and the RDBMS functionality of MySQL meets your needs, then any concerns over Oracle's stewardship of the database are probably unfounded. MySQL remains the most popular open-source RDBMS in the world, and Oracle is not going to give that title up without a fight. It's going to continue to update and sustain the community for as long as it makes financial sense. And never forget that a customer running MySQL is always a potential customer for the Oracle RDBMS.

 

By the same token, if you're a developer of open-source softwareand a true believer that software should be free and fully supported by a community of developersthen Oracle's actions as steward to MySQL are both troubling and problematic. The future of MySQL as a viable product for your customers is premised upon a highly vibrant community of developers who are actively engaged in the evolution of the software. But Oracle's actionsand its focus on bottom-line financeswill probably make it likely that the MySQL community will eventually falter.

 

For those in this last class of MySQL users, it's fortunate that the source code is available for evolutionary forks like Zend DBi and MariaDB. And that, of course, is the ultimate value of open-source software. For MySQL, the functionality and the development will continue to evolve, regardless of who owns the name of MySQL, as long as there is a need for the product.

 

Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is an independent IT analyst and writer. He is the former Editor in Chief of MC Press Online and Midrange Computing magazine and has over 20 years of experience as a programmer, systems engineer, IT director, industry analyst, author, speaker, consultant, and editor.  

 

Tom works from his home in the Napa Valley in California. He can be reached at ITincendiary.com.

 

 

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