MySQL AB threw its first ever user conference recently in San Jose, California, promoting its open source database as a viable, more affordable alternative to products from Oracle Corp., IBM Corp. and the other top database vendors. The Swedish company boasts 4 million installations of its product worldwide, many of which are at small businesses and government agencies that have downloaded the software for free. It claims to have 4,000 paying customers, including such names as Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc., which has embedded MySQL in some of its networking products.
The company has what it calls a dual licensing strategy. Customers can download the product for free, in which case they're required to freely distribute any improvements they make to the software, in the traditional open source model. They can also pay a flat fee of US$440 per server which allows them to keep their modifications private. MySQL also sells support services.
Its goal for the coming year is to evolve its database with new features and better performance, and to partner with more applications and tools vendors to expand the ecosystem around MySQL. It also plans to add new support, training and certification services for customers, said Marten Mickos, the company's chief executive officer, in a speech last Friday at the show.
"Performance is always number one. MySQL is and shall be the fastest performing database. We'll always keep that our number one priority," he said.
The product lacks many of the features found in databases from Oracle, IBM, Microsoft Corp. and Sybase Inc., but MySQL's goal isn't to replace every instance of those vendors' products, Mickos said. Rather, the company sees a role for itself alongside the established players in what are already heterogeneous database environments.
"It's analogous to what's happening with Linux. Everybody says they're switching to Linux, but the reality is that most companies run it in a mixed environment where they also have mainframes and they also have Windows and Unix. They're not abandoning those platforms, they're deciding which places it makes sense to replace them," he said.
A portion of the database market has become commoditized, Mickos argued in an interview, with all of the vendors offering a similar, core set of functions that most organizations need. MySQL's goal is to capture that part of the market, he said, where features have become standard and where specialized capabilities, like handling XML documents or offering the very highest levels of uptime, are not required.
The types of applications MySQL is being used for include serving information for public Web sites and in corporate intranets, for network administration and data logging, and for data warehousing, Mickos said.
"We're not a typical datacenter database today but we have a good fit at the edge of the enterprise -- at the departmental level and in remote locations at the edge (of corporate networks)," he said.
MySQL faces several hurdles to wider adoption, particularly among enterprise customers, said Rick Cattell, deputy chief technology officer for software at Sun Microsystems Inc., who spoke at the user conference about opportunities and challenges for open source.
"Here's the challenge: Enterprise adoption depends on having key applications that the CIO wants, and on the perceived risks of using open source. Those are the key issues that you need to address," he said.
Big businesses tend to be conservative shoppers, Cattell noted. They prefer to deal with larger vendors because they feel more confident that they'll still be in business in five years' time, and they are wary of using a product when its source code is being modified constantly by developers around the world.
"Great technology is a great start, but it doesn't guarantee you success," Cattell said.
MySQL has emerged as the best known open-source database and the company hopes to benefit from the momentum behind open source begun by Apache and Linux. It will stick closely to the community spirit associated with open source development, Mickos said, and will offer a GPL license for every product it develops. At the same time, MySQL is unashamedly out for profit.
"Affordability is a key notion. We think we can produce (software) for you at a price no one else can match. But at the same time, we're no charity," he said. The company's dual licensing model is "the only system that makes it possible for us to be a complete GPL company and at the same time build a sustainable, profitable business," he added.
MySQL tripled both its sales and its employee count last year, Mickos said, and now has about 70 employees in 15 countries. Its product is being downloaded from its Web site 29,000 times each day, he said. Earlier this week it distributed the source code to an "alpha" release of MySQL Version 4.0.1, adding a raft of features including subqueries, derived tables and support for OpenGIS.
It won't commit to release dates for its products, saying it will release them when they are ready. That's only one of the ways in which it differs from other vendors. Until recently MySQL had no official office space. When it did open its first office two years ago, the space remained empty for 10 months, Mickos said. Today, most of its employees still work from home or at customer sites.
With growth comes challenges. MySQL gets so much e-mail from developers these days that it can't keep up with it all, Mickos said. The company's customer base also is shifting toward those who want services to help them install and manage their software.
"We'll continue to increase our breadth of services. ... Many of our existing users just wanted to download the software themselves, they enjoyed it. But now they're saying, 'Spare me the details. Just tell me what the cost is and we'll pay you to do the job.' " -- IDG News Service
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.