Oracle Buys Sun: What Happens to MySQL?

April 24, 2009

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On April 20 the world learned that Oracle, not IBM, would be the new owner of Sun Microsystems. Oracle will pay $5.6 billion, excluding cash and debt. While geospatial practitioners use Sun's Java language and may even have some Sun hardware running, one small bit of the Sun empire has direct support for geospatial data: the open source database MySQL. What's MySQL's future as it joins its bigger, stronger brother Oracle in the same company?

Officially, Oracle makes this statement in an FAQ (pdf) about the merger:
MySQL will be an addition to Oracle's existing suite of database products, which already includes Oracle Database 11g, TimesTen, Berkeley DB open source database, and the open source transactional storage engine, InnoDB.
MySQL Background
MySQL was developed by MySQL AB of Sweden and dates back to 1995, with a first release for Windows 95 and NT in 1998. Sun acquired MySQL AB in February 2008 for $1 billion. The current version, 5.1, was released in November 2008. MySQL AB offers both an open source (GNU Public License, GPL) and proprietary license for uses that are not compatible with GPL.

Oracle had been buying up technology around the MySQL application. It acquired InnoDB in September 2005. That company developed a storage engine that allowed MySQL to provide such functionality as transactions and foreign keys. That technology continues to be licensed to MySQL AB.

In February 2006, Oracle Corporation acquired Sleepycat Software, makers of Berkeley DB, another core technology for MySQL. Oracle even attempted to purchase MySQL AB in 2006, but the owner declined to sell. Directions Media has powered its content management system with MySQL for more than 10 years.

MySQL Spatial
Spatial extensions for MySQL were released with version 4.1 in April 2003. The extensions supported the "generation, storage, and analysis of geographic features." The extensions have matured. Even as I write this, John Powell of eMapSite is presenting a paper titled "Spatial SQL: Who Needs a Traditional GIS?" at the MySQL User Conference (April 21, 2009).

The Future of MySQL at Oracle
MySQL's former chief executive, Mï¿1⁄2rten Mickos, stands firm and states that Oracle wanted MySQL and will keep it alive. He's interviewed in Forbes and argues that Oracle needs MySQL to do battle with Microsoft and its fast growing SQL Server. In particular, Mickos sees MySQL as a way to lure a strong developer community to Oracle. Further, he suggests that MySQL doesn't really cut into Oracle's "legacy" use in applications since the younger open source offering is typically tied to Web implementations. The 11 or 12 million strong user base probably won't care too much who owns the database, so long as it works, he notes. He jokes that many users probably didn't even know MySQL was owned by Sun!

Om Malik, writing on his blog, sees the acquisition of MySQL in the deal as huge, but fears it will drive away the MySQL team.
Oracle's products find no room in most of the new web companies - most preferring either MySQL or other open-source offerings. On the high end as well, Oracle has been competing with the MySQL Cluster offering. In addition, several startups have started to develop a new kind of data-store ecosystem based on MySQL, which is competitive with Oracle's database offerings. In short, Oracle has taken out its No. 1 threat by buying Sun.

The deal is very likely going to result in exits from the MySQL team and cause some sort of a disruption.
Sean Michael Kerner at Internet News calls the addition of MySQL a win-win.
With MySQL, Oracle will have one of the leading open source databases, and a vendor that has been a bit of a competitor to Oracle over the last several years. It's a win-win for Oracle. They'll be able to continue to push their proprietary Oracle database offering, while chewing away at the open source and Web 2.0 sides of the market they didn't already hold.
Mathew Galinko, writing at Seeking Alpha (a financial blog), suspects MySQL will decline revenue-wise with the acquisition.
With the acquisition of Sun Microsystems and MySQL, Oracle seeks to control this up-and-coming, open source database, and most importantly, its licensing for commercial use. Our suspicion is that MySQL's revenue growth rate, while no longer disclosed, will slow precipitously following the integration of Sun Microsystems into Oracle.
Computerworld UK found analysts on both sides:
"MySQL is not going away. That's one of the key assets Oracle is buying here, and they know it."
- Forrester analyst James Kobielus

"There is no way that Oracle will promote MySQL heavily. At best it will become the low-end alternative for customers who moan that the main Oracle database offering is too costly. [Oracle's aim will be to] throttle the upstart pretender to the throne in order to protect the reigning monarch."
- Computerworld UK's Glyn Moody
Some final notes
This week's MySQL User Group Meeting in Santa Clara was the largest ever, with 2,000 attendees. It's unclear how much the acquisition may have pumped up attendance.

A study (pdf) done by the IOUG (International Oracle User Group) in 2006 highlighted that a third of Oracle shops had MySQL in production, side-by-side with their Oracle databases.

Virtually all of the editorial pieces I read about Oracle's acquisition of Sun noted the unclear future for MySQL. Not one noted its spatial extension or how it might compete with Oracle Spatial.

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