MySQL charts its way to paying customers with Query Analyzer

MySQL has always made a great database. Now it's using commercial add-ons to also build a great database business.

MySQL has long built a great database. It's increasingly also building a great database business.

MySQL made two big announcements on Wednesday, one product-related (the final release of MySQL 5.1) and the second licensing model-related (improvements to the subscription-only MySQL Enterprise Monitor service with Query Analyzer). Of the two, I believe the latter is the more important as it helps Sun to monetize the research and development investments it has been making in the MySQL product.

The product announcement is that MySQL 5.1 will ship on or before December 6. Sun announced MySQL 5.1 back in April, but now it's ready for release. MySQL 5.1 is not important because it adds transactions capabilities (MySQL has had this functionality for years), but rather because it augments MySQL's sweet spot: industry-beating scalability and performance.

Better than Oracle? Absolutely, as Sun senior vice president of Database Products, Marten Mickos, told me in a phone interview:

Performance and total cost of ownership are the two areas where we beat Oracle. Having said that, we aren't adding new functionality in order to compete with Oracle, but rather to serve our existing market and new markets.

Which markets? As the enterprise moves applications to the Web, that's MySQL wins. That's where we want to be relevant. That's why in 5.1 we have new features in replication and partitioning, for example. Both are targeted at scaling out, meaning that we're delivering enhanced throughput more than syntactical features.

As Google, Facebook, and other Web companies know, MySQL is the gold standard of Web-savvy databases. The more enterprises move to the Web, the better for Sun's MySQL business.

But only if Sun actually knows how to make money with its open-source assets like the MySQL database. This is why the addition of MySQL's Query Analyzer tool to the MySQL Enterprise Monitor service is so important. The Query Analyzer helps database administrators to quickly resolve problems in their database queries, thereby boosting performance.

And because Query Analyzer is only available to paying subscribers to the MySQL Enterprise Monitor service, it means that Sun is hoping that a significant number of enterprises will trade their money to save time and boost database performance. I think this is a safe bet, though I continue to believe MySQL should introduce database-level differentiation into its products, rather than relying on add-ons to fuel conversions from MySQL Community to MySQL Enterprise.

Would this hurt MySQL's community? It's highly unlikely. As OurDelta, Drizzle, and other MySQL off-shoots (and forks) demonstrate, the MySQL community is alive and well. Any moves from MySQL to shore up its income statement in order to afford more R&D into its products, both Community and Enterprise, is a Very Good Thing for groups of users.

To close the interview, I asked Mickos about the recession and its likely effects, near-term and long-term, on Sun's MySQL database business. His reply is instructive:

I joined in 2001 when the dot-com bubble burst, and now the housing bubble has burst. Over time, the last recession propelled us to grow, and I believe the same will happen now. Customers came for the low price and stayed because we weren't all that bad. [Laughs.]

We don't mind that many people initially come to us for the low or no price. Why? Because a considerable number stay for the excellent performance and stability that MySQL provides. People are freaking out now about the recession, but as they seek to cut costs to meet tighter budgets open source will win because we allow enterprises to get more performance out of their servers for less cost.

Sun has its share of struggles right now, but listening to Mickos, the MySQL business unit may not be one of them. The group continues to develop excellent software and to explore ways to turn product excellence into financial excellence, all while maintaining community excellence. It's a delicate balancing act, but one that MySQL, and Sun, are determined to perform.