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Will the 2011 MySQL Conference Be the Last One?: A Q&A

This year marked my fifth year at the MySQL Conference. With some distance between the Oracle acquisition, this year’s show provided an interesting glimpse into the status of MySQL, both the project and the ecosystem. Let’s get to the questions.

Q: Before we begin, do you have anything to disclose?
A: Yes. Prior to its acquisition by Oracle, Sun was a RedMonk client. And prior to its acquisition by Sun, MySQL was a RedMonk client. In addition, multiple entities that compete directly or indirectly with MySQL are RedMonk clients, including Akiban, Basho, IBM, Lucid Imagination, Membase, and Microsoft.

Q: With that out of the way, how did the show do, logistically?
A: I’m not aware of what the actual attendance figures were, but they were reported to be down from last year. The show floor, at least, was sparsely populated. In general, the show is clearly down from the height of its popularity.

Q: What is this a symptom of, do you think?
A: Many things. Market fragmentation, scheduling conflicts, but Oracle probably played the most direct role.

Q: How so? What did Oracle do, or not do, to impact the MySQL Conference?
A: As with the prior year, Oracle’s commitment to the show was anemic. To begin with, their Collaborate conference was scheduled direct opposite the MySQL conference. Financially, they were not even the lead sponsor for a conference focused on their product; that spot went instead to a MySQL competitor, EnterpriseDB. More broadly, Oracle’s relationship with its ecosystem is more complicated than it used to be. MySQL partners deemed competitive with Oracle, for example, have had their relationships terminated.

Q: So Oracle is then a poor steward of MySQL?
A: Of the community and ecosystem, perhaps. With respect to the product itself, however, Oracle appears to be living up to its EU commitments: 5.6 looks like an excellent release, and reactions have been very positive.

Q: What did this conference say about the future of MySQL?
A: First, that the community remains large and vibrant. Second, that MySQL is potentially facing an Android like future of multiple implementations. Last, that MySQL is an option these days, rather than the option.

Q: Let’s take those in order. How did this conference validate the size of the MySQL Community, particularly if attendance was down?
A: Through the sheer variety and scope of sessions and attendees. I spoke with services people, hardware people, software product people, developers, engineers, DBAs, and sysadmins…and all in the space of a few hours. The speakers included the usual suspects: members of the MySQL family (Data Differential. Monty Program, MySQL, Percona, SkySQL, etc) and long time web users (Craigslist, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, Zynga, etc). But it also featured talks from AOL, Amazon, Blizzard, BYU, Canonical, Metric Insights, Rackspace, and Recorded Future, not to mention erstwhile competitors such as Akiban, Aster Data, Cloudera, Membase, Mongo, and PostgreSQL. That’s a reasonably diverse base.

Q: And what about the fragmentation?
A: MySQL users increasingly face an interesting question: where do I buy MySQL support? The obvious answer, and certainly the safe one for larger businesses, is Oracle. The difficulty, as it usually is with Oracle, is in pricing. As in, it goes up. Regularly. At some point, for some customers, Oracle’s offerings become less relevant as a function of their pricepoint. Fortunately for these customers, there is no shortage of alternative options. You can purchase MySQL, or something very like it, from Amazon. Or you could buy support from SkySQL, launched late last year and home to many of the original MySQL staffers. Percona will support its flavor of MySQL for you. Or canonical MySQL, Drizzle, MariaDB, or RDS. Pythian provides MySQL support services. And so on.

If you’re a customer, which do you choose, and why? It was easy – or easier – when MySQL was an independent. As part of Oracle, the support calculus for some users will change. But the plethora of available support options is counterintuitively a negative for customers, as they contemplate the array of options available to them.

This is a natural consequence of the relatively recent acquisition of Sun/MySQL by Oracle; roiled markets take time to settle. But the issue of fragmentation remains. Henrik created MepSQL for a reason, and that reason is that there is a high volume of decentralized development occurring around the codebase. This is a positive for functional development, obviously, but it poses challenges from a customer adoption standpoint. Centralization would be useful, but under what mechanism? A commercial vendor? Neither are likely, though you should watch Amazon here [coverage].

Q: And lastly, how is MySQL just an option now, rather than the option?
A: As we’ve documented previously [coverage], the wider industry trend is away from general purpose and towards specialization. The database market is no exception to this: we’ve seen an accelerating acceptance of specialized datastores within businesses of non-specific types or industries. While these typically non-relational technologies are not typically displacing traditional databases, they are absorbing substantial volumes of new workloads that were once serviced by RDBMS systems. Rather than bending MySQL into a key value store, users instead are selecting built-for-purposes persistence mechanisms such as Bitcask, Membase, memcached, Redis or Voldemort. Or column databases. Or document databases. Pick your datastore type of choice.

The end result of this process is a more diverse, competitive marketplace. One in which MySQL is a popular option for certain workloads, but no longer the de facto only option.

Q: Bigger picture, what do you think of the state of MySQL, circa 2011? What would you tell a MySQL user?
A: Like Brian Aker, I’m generally positive. Whatever you think about the fragmentation, the increased market competition, or Oracle’s lack of support for community oriented events, the fact is that MySQL remains an immense ecosystem under active development. Support options are varied, the code is being improved, and the ubiquity of the database is a massive advantage. As such, I see no reason to recommend against current or future MySQL usage.

Q: And for developers?
A: Most developers have already made the adjustment to Oracle’s acquisition. Many were already leveraging MySQL side-by-side with specialized or alternative datastores – the interest in NoSQL predates the Oracle acquisition – and those that had issues with Oracle’s support have moved on to the likes of Percona and SkySQL.

Q: What about the idea that it won’t be called the MySQL Conference anymore, but the open source database conference? Will the 2011 MySQL Conference be the last one?
A: That’s more a function of conference logistics than the health of MySQL. MySQL AB, while it was independent, outsourced the conference organization to O’Reilly in a partnership that worked well for both parties. For better or for worse, Oracle appears to have no interest in similar community focused events, and as a result it would be impossible to blame O’Reilly if they retired the MySQL branding considering that the product owner is only peripherally involved. And if you factor in market context, the timing is appropriate: the open source database space is exploding.

Frankly, whatever O’Reilly calls the show next year – assuming they have one, of course – I’ll be there. The ecosystem was always bigger than just MySQL, and if the naming reflects that, so be it.

Categories: Conferences & Shows, Databases.

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