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MySQL fills Oracle-consumed hole in database

Open-source database company, with its own storage engine in the works, renews contract with Oracle around InnoDB.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
3 min read
Employees and customers of MySQL got a jolt of concern in October, when Oracle bought Innobase, a small company supplying an important component of the MySQL open-source database.

Now MySQL has a plan to calm any lingering nerves.

The upstart database company is developing its own transactional storage engine, which can effectively be used as a replacement for the Oracle-acquired technology, executives said.

MySQL has also renewed the Innobase contract Oracle inherited. The contract has a term of less than 10 years and calls for Oracle to update Innobase's InnoDB storage engine--as it had been before the acquisition--on the same terms, Marten Mickos, MySQL's CEO.

"It's pretty good having Oracle as a subcontractor."
--Marten Mickos, CEO, MySQL

"Oracle told us that it's business as usual--they don't want to slow us down, and they will fix bugs," Mickos told CNET News.com on Wednesday. "It's pretty good having Oracle as a subcontractor."

The MySQL database can work with different storage engines, including InnoDB. Until now, MySQL has relied on engines written by a third party and bundled with the rest of the database.

Oracle's purchase of InnoDB, which is tuned for business-oriented transaction systems, set off a wave of speculation on Oracle's intentions.

Some wondered whether the move was meant to stall MySQL market momentum or kill a popular MySQL-tied product.

RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady said MySQL's decision to write its own storage engine is a direct response to Oracle's purchase of Innobase and Sleepycat Software, another open-source database Oracle bought that works with MySQL.

"Given the shot across the bow those acquisitions represented and the potential for customer disruption, it probably was in MySQL's best long-term interests to control that technology," O'Grady said.

Innobase was a small company with only five employees, and it didn't represent a large financial outlay for a company of Oracle's size.

But having control over Innobase gave Oracle valuable information on how customers use MySQL, and it offered the potential to rattle customers, O'Grady argued.

Compared to database heavyweight Oracle, MySQL is very small--it brought in a little less than $40 million of revenue in 2005--but it is the most popular open-source database with developers, according to market research firm Evans Data.

Open-source databases, in general, are not as sophisticated as Oracle's flagship database product, but the company is seeing more competition from open-source companies such as MySQL, Ingres and EnterpriseDB.

Like other database companies, Oracle has reacted to the interest in open-source products, which proponents argue can be cheaper than established products.

In February, Oracle released a free version of its database that limits the hardware on which it can run. It also tried to buy MySQL but was rebuffed.

Encouraging plug-ins
The storage engine MySQL is working on will be available this year. The engine derives from MySQL's acquisition of Netfrastructure, which employed database luminary Jim Starkey and other engineers.

"What we didn't tell people when we bought Netfrastructure is that we were getting more than just people. We were also getting software," Mickos said.

At the company's customer conference later this month, MySQL executives will further detail its strategy for storage engines.

The company will disclose partners that are writing their own storage engines for MySQL and further detail its "plug-in" architecture for storage engines, said Zack Urlocker, MySQL vice president of marketing.

The purpose of having different storage mechanisms is to specialize. For example, a third party could create a way to index text documents very well and gain access to MySQL developers.

Separately, Mickos said the company could in the future file for an initial public offering to provide an "exit for its investors" but also said there are no imminent plans. The company raised a third, $18.5 million round in February of this year.

"We want to remain independent," he said.