Inquiry Focuses On Future of MySQL

The European Commission's decision to investigate Oracle's plan to acquire Sun Microsystems is focused largely on the future of the open source MySQL database.

Catching many observers off guard, the EC announced the inquiry last Thursday just two weeks after the United States Department of Justice approved the $7.4 billion deal.

Numerous questions regarding Oracle's plans for Sun's various hardware and software assets remain unanswered. Among them, Oracle has not revealed its plans for MySQL, which Sun acquired last year for $1 billion.

"They've been particularly silent about MySQL and I think that's also feeding the concern," said Ed Boyajian, CEO of EnterpriseDB, key sponsor of the open source PostgreSQL database in an interview prior to the EC action.

While the share of MySQL implementations pales that of Oracle's flagship namesake database, IBM's DB2 and Microsoft's SQL Server, it is a popular platform for low-cost Web-based applications.

"The Commission has to examine very carefully the effects on competition in Europe when the world's leading proprietary database company proposes to take over the world's leading open source database company," EC Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement. "In particular, the Commission has an obligation to ensure that customers would not face reduced choice or higher prices as a result of this takeover."

At stake is a growing ecosystem of emerging providers looking to keep MySQL open. MySQL founder and creator Monty Widenius recently helped launch the Open Database Alliance, as reported in June. The ODA's community-developed implementation of the MySQL database, called Maria, has a new storage engine for MySQL that aims to become the default for both transactional and non transactional storage.

Among third party startups that are looking to use the GPL-based implementation of MySQL are ScaleDB, Infobright and Kickfire, which offer, among other things, data warehouse applications and have license agreements with Sun.

"Theoretically there could be a concern that Oracle would use its position to potentially disrupt those players," said 451 Group analyst Matthew Aslett in an interview. "As the owner of the commercial rights of MySQL, it would be in a position to do that."

What actions the EC takes, if any, to impose any restrictions on what Oracle can do with MySQL remains to be seen. One possibility, Aslett said, would be for it to constrain Oracle from imposing copyright restrictions on commercial implementations of MySQL. While those third parties did not pose a competitive threat to Sun, Oracle could view them as rivals to its own proprietary Oracle database platform, he said.

Aslett said he believes Oracle ultimately could be good for MySQL. "We said from day one that we think MySQL is valuable to Oracle in terms of taking it to scale out Web application areas, and also competing on the low end of the market with Microsoft's SQL Server," he said.

It also remains be seen how providers of open source databases focused on transactional applications, namely EnterpriseDB and Ingres, are affected by what Oracle does with MySQL. While in the past the two companies have said they play in different markets, both have indicated they are seeing interest from some MySQL customers.

EnterpriseDB's Boyajian said thousands of customers have downloaded a new MySQL to PostgreSQL migration wizard it developed.

"Whether they go to Postgres or not is left to be seen," he said, "but there are certainly indications that there's tremendous amount of churn and concern in that community."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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