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All MySQL's children

MySQL is being eaten away from within and without by former and current employees, perhaps calling for a way to protect itself: commercial extensions.

As American soap operas go, All My Children has been one of the best and most popular since it first aired in 1970. The ABC soap, which aimed to be highly topical, has long tackled difficult social issues like abortion and homosexuality when most other shows held back.

MySQL, the premier open-source database, has decided to steal the script from All My Children, addressing some of the most challenging issues in open-source software, like commercial extensions and now, in lurid detail, the fork with Drizzle, as well as an alternative patch community, OurDelta.

First, the Drizzle fork. Announced last year (likely through gritted MySQL teeth, though a brave face was put on it), Drizzle has quickly gained a following, with Stephen O'Grady recently celebrating its development:

...(T)hose who would dismiss Drizzle as merely a stripped down MySQL miss the point entirely; the project is, if anything, a fundamental rethinking of what a database should be and the deployment context for it. Drizzle is emphatically more than a refactoring. It is, rather, a database being built expressly for scale out clouds running Map/Reduce like architectures at immense scale.

This may well be true, but it could prove a bit of a set-back (if short-term) to MySQL, or rather to Sun Microsystems, and arguably makes the company's job harder to monetize MySQL, which, in turn, means that fewer development resources will likely make their way into MySQL and Drizzle.

O'Grady points out that Sun supports Drizzle with funding and so it must see a commercial opportunity in it. Let's hope so because "community" is not going to turn Drizzle into an enterprise grade product. Self-interested corporations will do that, as Puppet's Luke Kanies recently wrote.

Former MySQLer Arjen Lentz's OurDelta, on the other hand, seems to me to offer similar promise without being a fork of MySQL. Rather than replace MySQL, OurDelta "produces enhanced builds for MySQL, with OurDelta and third-party patches, for common production platforms." As Lentz told me over IM:

Drizzle is going where Brian (Aker) & Co. reckon the future will lie. It's an experiment and exploration, as Brian has written/talked about.

OurDelta deals with the needs of the MySQL production users today.

OurDelta, which has started quite well, enhances the MySQL experience. Could OurDelta have been started within Sun/MySQL? Sure. But it has the potential to become a vital part of the MySQL ecosystem, as the OurDelta Web site suggests:

For production environments (the real world!), some new additions are extremely useful and sometimes even vital for application performance as well as for maintenance and troubleshooting. For the MySQL Community to thrive, there is a need for up-to-date builds on all relevant platforms, with speedy availability of new innovation both from inside Sun/MySQL as well as from other parties. This encourages testing and use in more environments, which in turn enhances the feedback cycle, and improves quality.

All of which leads me to ask, "Has MySQL, the project, become much bigger than MySQL, the company?" The answer seems to be "yes," but this is both good and bad. It's healthy to give customers choice, and a fork demonstrates that the community is at least as strong as the company behind a project. Even so, it's bad if the Drizzle fork ends up siphoning away revenue from MySQL, making it harder for the company to invest resources in MySQL (and Drizzle) development.

Is OurDelta good for MySQL? I think it can be. It's a way of adding value to MySQL though it, too, could end up siphoning off revenue opportunities from MySQL/Sun, which in turn means...a weaker MySQL database to enhance via OurDelta.

All of which, in my mind, begs for MySQL to "fork" itself and start providing commercial value that can't easily be had elsewhere. If it's fair to fork with Drizzle and enhance with OurDelta, why can't Sun extend MySQL Enterprise to provide add-on functionality to the base MySQL build that enables MySQL to thrive amongst its proprietary and open-source competitors?