Open Database Alliance hedges against Oracle plans for MySQL
May 14, 2009 9:51 AM CT
Oracle's recent move to acquire Sun has placed the responsibility for advancing MySQL development into the hands of the project's most prominent competitor. The move is of deep concern to MySQL stakeholders and has created some uncertainty about the future of the popular open source database system.
Some key developers in the MySQL community are launching a new coalition called the Open Database Alliance which intends to coordinate collaborative MySQL development. The alliance—which currently consists of Monty Program Ab, Percona, and OpenQuery—aims to provide an inclusive, vendor-neutral environment for moving forward MySQL development. Their efforts will attempt to insulate MySQL from Oracle's competitive interests by giving the collective MySQL community enough leverage to control the project's destiny.
Sun acquired MySQL Ab—the company behind MySQL development—last year as part of a broader strategy to make its own technologies look more compelling as an alterantive to the conventional Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP (LAMP) stack. Sun's stewardship of the project was controversial and led to some friction. MySQL cofounders David Axmark and Monty Widenius both left Sun after the acquisition, citing frustration with management and dissatisfaction with the direction of MySQL development under Sun. Widenius was particularly unhappy with new release management practices that were instated following the acquisition.
After leaving Sun, Widenius launched Monty Program Ab, a company that provides MySQL engineering services and focuses heavily on developing the Maria MySQL storage engine. The company also develops MariaDB, a compatible "drop-in" replacement for MySQL, based on the original source code. When Sun was acquired by Oracle last month, Widenius said that Monty Program Ab could play a vital role in building a new community-driven development model for MySQL by moving MariaDB forward, making the project more independent and participatory. The Open Database Alliance appears to be an impressive first step in that direction.
Ars discussed the Open Database Alliance with Kurt von Finck, the Chief Community and Communications Officer of Monty Program Ab. He explained some of the details of the alliance's plans and how the group will serve the MySQL community.
At the present time, the organization has no clearly defined formal structure or governance model. According to von Finck, the first participants hope to build more momentum around the concept before they decide how the group should operate. This will allow incoming members to have a voice in the process as the alliance expands. Organic growth is important at this stage, von Finck says, and it will be easier to determine what kind of organizational structure works best after the group achieves critical mass.
The alliance's relationship with Oracle is also not yet clearly defined. Monty Program Ab characterizes its work on MariaDB as a MySQL fork. After Oracle completes its acquisition of Sun, Oracle could adopt Monty Program Ab's fork, accept patches from it, or simply ignore it and allow the codebases to further diverge.
Monty Program Ab and the alliance are prepared to serve as the primary upstream source of MySQL derivative source code in the form of MariaDB, says von Finck. If Oracle ceases development entirely or maintains its version in a manner that is unpalatable to the broader MySQL community, the alliance provides a crucial safety net for users, guaranteeing that MySQL (as MariaDB) will continue to be developed in an open fashion, regardless of what Oracle does with the project.
The alliance will serve other roles, too. The member companies will share work and refer customers to each other in order to make sure that MySQL users always have access to the specific kind of commercial support that they require. Sun tried to be a one-stop shop for every kind of MySQL support, an approach that von Finck believes is not always conducive to providing uniformly high-quality service. Specialized companies, he says, are often better equipped to address the unique technical needs of individual MySQL users.
Through the alliance, MySQL users will be able to find the support companies that are best-suited to deliver the kind of service that they require, whether it's custom engineering, scalability expertise, training, or any number of other areas. The alliance will make it easier for these support companies to work together effectively. Widenius wants to keep the headcount at Monty Program Ab under 40 people, says von Finck, which means that it won't be able to do everything by itself. The growth of the alliance will help boost diversity and competition, turning MariaDB support into a vibrant industry that isn't controlled by any single dominant vendor.
Although diversity has a lot of value, the risk is that it could lead to further forking and diminish overall compatibility between versions of the software that are maintained by various companies. We have seen this happen in the Linux distribution space, where variance between distros has detracted from interoperability and created significant portability challenges. von Finck believes that such problems can largely be averted—or at least reduced—-in the MySQL community by offering a high level of transparency and inclusiveness in the upstream environment.
He contends that Sun didn't always maintain good relations with the development community outside of the company, forcing third-party developers to make changes downstream. The alliance will strive to make sure that third-parties have direct access to the people building relevant parts of MariaDB's architecture so that their needs can be accommodated and compatibility can be maintained. Offering a more transparent and accessible upstream environment will reduce the barriers to entry that often compel people to create forks, von Finck explains.
The MySQL relational database system is arguably one of the most important pieces of open source server software in existence. There are millions of active deployments, and it used to power some of the most popular websites on the Internet. The Open Database Alliance has the potential to take MySQL to the next level by making MariaDB more open and community-driven. The group will also provide much-needed leadership and a unified front for moving the project forward and into independence, ending the doubt created by Oracle's pending acquisition of Sun.