Mickos: a New Year of 'radical transparency' for MySQL

Marten Mickos' letter to the troops indicates that all is better than well at MySQL: MySQL's open-source model of "radical transparency" is going exceptionally well indeed.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

Marten Mickos, SVP of Sun's database group, could be forgiven for resting on his billion-dollar laurels, having sold MySQL to Sun in early 2008 for $1 billion (despite an S1 to go public in the works). But on New Year's Eve, Mickos sent out a missive to "customers, partners, users, colleagues, [and] friends," declaring MySQL's "radical transparency" a commencement and coda for how the open-source database leader does business, pre-Sun and post-Sun.

Importantly, as Mickos calls out, it was Sun's acquisition that brought to a furious boil all the somewhat private tensions and passions that had always made MySQL tick, but which had simmered in the background:

[The Sun acquisition] brought out the passion in people inside and outside the MySQL ecosystem, and for the good and the bad of it, we had a year of fierce debates on free vs. paid, bugs vs. bugfreeness, to fork or not to, release frequency vs. community contributions - and generally on the governance of a leading free and open source software product that is owned by a corporation.

Not that this is anything new to MySQL. Over the years we have seen it as our duty to be a pioneer and to experiment. We know that open source is a smarter way to produce software, but we also know that a company must make money. As Steve O'Grady of Red Monk noted: "MySQL has never shied from being controversial, from being the iconoclast of the open source world."

All of this has paid off, for MySQL and for the open-source ecosystem of which it plays such a key part. Indeed, Gartner recently called out in its "The Growing Maturity of Open-Source Database Management Systems" report that 73 percent of surveyed enterprise buyers are using open-source databases, up from 49 percent the year before. That is amazing growth by any yardstick.

While some may justly worry that MySQL's commercialization may lead to less community involvement and impact on the open-source database, Mickos calls out that "with 5.1 the inflow of new bug reports has remained encouragingly stable," suggesting that MySQL's community remains very much engaged with Sun, the company, despite its release of commercial add-ons to its open-source database like Query Analyzer, part of MySQL Enterprise Monitor. You can track MySQL bugs online, something you won't see IBM or Oracle doing anytime soon.

What of Sun's MySQL database business? Glad you asked:

On the business side we have reported stronger sales growth as part of Sun. The bursting of the lending bubble and the ensuing financial crisis did initially affect us as customers pulled the brakes. But in the last weeks we have seen strong growth again with deals in high 7 figures. We signed some of our biggest deals with web properties, our biggest deal ever with an enterprise customer, and a major telecom deal.

This is the critical test. Nice as it is that Mickos and the MySQL team made a large pile of money from Sun, it would be a hollow victory if Sun could not, in return, reap commensurate benefits. A strong MySQL contributes to a strong Sun. It remains to be seen if $1 billion was a bit too rich, but Mickos seems fully engaged to help ensure Sun more than gets its money's worth.