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MySQL: A database (and database business) at Web scale

MySQL used to be a great database, but through some changes to its business model, it also stands to become a great database business, as well.

Marten Mickos, senior vice president of Sun's database business, has given a fascinating interview on Sun's Contrarian Minds blog. It's fascinating not so much for what Mickos says as for where it suggests the database is going...and where its competitors can't.

MySQL, like any technology, has always had its deficiencies, but few would argue with Mickos' assertion as to its Web readiness:

MySQL is the only major database in the world that was designed for the Internet. It was designed in 1995, when the Internet already existed. Whereas all the other products were created in an offline world. So this created major design differences. Maybe at the surface it looks similar. We have the same features. But still it's like we are an electric car and they are petrol cars.

In other words, there are things for which Oracle is better, and for which Oracle may always be better. But the same is true of MySQL, and as the world moves online, MySQL, not Oracle, may be in the prime seat.

Ironically, the same may be true of MySQL's business model. As a business, My SQL has been both hobbled and helped by its Internet birth: hobbled by how easily attainable it is, and helped for the same reason. You can have MySQL without paying a dime, but Mickos is someone that likes dimes. Millions and billions of them.

Hence, it has been critical that MySQL tweak its model to take advantage of the ease of Internet access to its technology, but add subscription/proprietary value that ensures it gets paid enough to give even more code away:

There was a decision in the spring to make sure all our open-source products have one part that is for the community, for building momentum, for getting developers excited, and then there is this value-add for people who are ready to spend money to save time....

We are building a software business. We are not building a marketing machine that can sell something else. We are building a software business. We are very happy when it has hardware drag and software drag and services drag, but we are not content to just be a lead-generation machine.

And so Sun/MySQL is introducing a range of subscription-only services that add to an enterprise's MySQL experience. They can get the raw, core MySQL bits for free, but Mickos is betting that enough people will want to pay for the add-on value that Sun will be able to make back the $1 billion it paid for MySQL, and then some.

With pragmatic Mickos at the helm, along with super-smart people like Rich Green, Zack Urlocker, and others working on the problem, I believe that Sun's database business is going to do very well. It just needed to figure out how to both harness and tame the Internet that was MySQL's blessing and curse. It appears that it has. Game on.