MySQL Gets Ready For Its Close-Up

MySQL -- available in open source -- is on track to gain support for clustering, Unicode, stored procedures, triggers and views.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

April 15, 2004

5 Min Read

MySQL is getting ready for prime time.

Once viewed as the little database that could do basic tasks, MySQL--available in open source and commercial form--is on track to gain support for clustering, Unicode, stored procedures, triggers and views. Those are big-time check-box items for enterprise database users.

MySQL co-founders David Axmark and Michael "Monty" Widenius seem loathe to say the database they started developing in 1995 now goes head to head with the big databases from Oracle and IBM. But their joint presentation at the second annual MySQL Users Conference this week was titled, "From The Cellar To The Enterprise." And the enterprise is what Oracle and IBM databases call home.

"If you look at the feature list of Oracle, it's like this," Axmark said, holding his hands as far apart as they reach. "We offer features like this," he said, narrowing down the space between his hands to a foot or so.

But in an exclusive interview with CRN, Axmark and Widenius maintained that what they offer is just fine for the bulk--80 to 90 percent--of the market.

"We see stored procedures as a commodity," Axmark said. For the record, at the show, MySQL promises stored procedure support will come in version 5.0 of the database. The current release is 4.0 and 4.1 is due in production mode by year's end.

"Ten years ago, almost all programmers had their own small databases. They fiddled with them, etc. No one writes their own databases anymore," he added.

In the tandem interview, the co-founders finished each other's answers and supplied their own questions. "We compete [with other database providers] on some things," Widenius said.

They are careful not to position their offering squarely against Oracle 10g or IBM DB2--and yet when confronted with rivals own competitive claims, they bristle.

Told that an Oracle executive last year said his 12-year old daughter would be able to install Oracle 10g, they bit their tongues. For a minute. Widenius then said that to his knowledge the Oracle database still comes on 10 CDs, "Do you really need 10 CDs?" (Note: He is probably talking about Oracle 10g Enterprise Edition, as Oracle's lower-end Standard Edition One is one CD).

Axmark added: "Our default install is one file!"

Widenius expands on that: "Our normal install is 10 Mbytes or less."

"The real question isn't whether you can install Oracle. The question is do you want to?"

In truth, it's not just that MySQL is growing up, it's that Oracle 10g and IBM DB2 are coming down. Both companies increasingly tout ease of use and ease of install as perks. Both are strengths long thought to be the province of Microsoft SQL Server, another database power. Meanwhile, MySQL and SQL Server are seen as coming up the enterprise ladder.

Both Axmark and Widenius then pull back a bit. Oracle has a "good product," they both agree.

This week in Orlando, Fla., some 500 or so MySQL users gathered to hear about the database road map and hear about the company's new VAR program, which seeks to embed the database in more businesses.

What does the VAR program signify? "It will grow the market. We can't do it all," Axmark said.

"We should be the director of how the kernel works and leave the rest to others," Widenius added.

While the MySQL development duo may have mixed feelings about putting their database up against major league competition, some of their customers have no such qualms.

John Sudderth, senior computer scientist at Scientific Applications International Corp. (SAIC), who was instrumental in moving parts of NASA off of Oracle onto MySQL is a big fan. "We've never had an outage. I attribute a lot of it to the fact that the open-source companies aren't competing in areas where they're trying to cripple each others' products. There's no finger pointing."

Asked later if MySQL should be viewed as vying for IT budget dollars with Oracle databases, Sudderth said, "More all the time."

Michael Benzinger, senior principal at Sabre Holdings, a Southlake, Texas-based provider of online travel reservations firepower, concurred. Sabre considered an open-source alternative after the company's CTO requested it and ended up going with MySQL. And this is a big application by many measures. A single query on a ticket price from Dallas to New York involves more than three billion fare combinations including fare types, dates, airlines, taxes.

The initial bid to cover five years from high-end player Times Ten came in at $36 million. Oracle came in with "a deal" for $18 million. IBM came in at $5 million, he said. While Benzinger was not sure of the exact figure for MySQL, he estimates it at just under $50,000 per year including 24x7 maintenance and support. That's quite a cost savings.

As for the MySQL road map itself, for Version 4.1, the binary files should be available in the second quarter and production code is due in the fourth quarter. On the 4.1 menu is support for subqueries, spatial data via OpenGIS, Unicode, multitable updates, SSL support for secure replication and multiple commands in a single statement. The latter feature would help cut down "round tripping" in client/server implementations, Axmark and Widenius said.

The OpenGIS support, which would bring geographical data into the fold, was requested by large customers such as Yahoo. "What if you're looking for a woman with a dog in a certain geographical area," Axmark asked in his keynote.

Further down the pike, Version 5 will add support for stored procedures and cursors. The binary code for stored procedures is already out and available for testing. It will also support a "greedy optimizer" that promises to handle many tables in a join.

The much-vaunted clustering will be available as an option in production mode in the third quarter. The commercial license will be less than $5,000 per processor. But, like the database itself, it will also be offered via a GNU General Public License at no charge. The database itself costs just under $500 per server in its commercial form.

As for the company's much-touted dual-licensing scheme, MySQL explains it succinctly. Their rule of thumb is: "If you [or your software] are free, we are free. If you are proprietary, we are commercial."

For more on MySQL, see related story.

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