MySQL CEO touts open source as an alternative

With its open source database, MySQL represents the economy class of databases, which can be a sufficient alternative to more expensive products, according to Marten Mickos, CEO of MySQL.

Speaking at the MySQL 2005 Users Conference in Santa Clara, California, on Wednesday, Mickos cited the preponderance of shrinking IT budgets and how users must make do with less than before. Users also have had to maintain legacy systems that are too expensive to grow and too expensive to throw out.

Open source fits right in as a solution for cash-strapped IT customers, Mickos emphasized. "We are the JetBlue of databases," Mickos said, referring to the economy-class airline. "[Previously], there was no economy class for databases," Mickos said.

Using an analogy in which airplanes have expensive business-class and first-class seats as well as less expensive economy class seats, Mickos noted that everyone on the plane gets to the destination at the same time.

"If you truly need the luxury, please pay for it," Mickos said. He said he anticipates a day when all the databases vendors will cooperate and collaborate on marketing ventures.

MySQL, for its part, has only been deployed in the enterprise space in the past two years, Mickos said. The company this week released the second beta of MySQL 5.0, which is due for general release by the end of the second quarter of this year and has enterprise-level features such as stored procedures and triggers. The second beta is considered code-complete by MySQL.

A MySQL user at the conference said his company began using MySQL in 2000 because it was a free alternative to other options. "Our whole business is basically built on it," said Brent Nelson, senior system administrator at iStockphoto, which offers royalty-free stock photography.

IStockphoto started out as a pet project and lacked funds, so the company just used free software, Nelson said. Although iStockphoto has faced issues with database scaling and replication, MySQL technology is getting better, said Nelson. "I'm not sure the proprietary [databases] would solve our problems anymore than MySQL," Mickos said.

For every 1,000 users of MySQL's database, the company has 100 users contributing back code and one user who actually pays for the software, Mickos said. "We love it. It's a fantastic equation and it works very well for us," he added.

The company's business model involves selling paid subscriptions to MySQL Network, which provides support for users, and also allows for free use of the software without support from MySQL.

Software, like other industries, began with customers overpaying for products, Mickos explained. But standardization has improved the situation, he said. "In the last 20 years, you have all paid for overly buggy, overly complex software," Mickos added. "But it's a natural step in any evolution."

Citing a comparative example, Mickos said the first fax machines were very expensive, but standardization brought down the unit price and expanded the market, Mickos said. "Suddenly, there's a whole new world of buyers," he said.

MySQL on Wednesday announced it has strengthened its partnership with Red Hat, with the two companies working together on initiatives such as integrated, collaborated technical support for joint customers. Red Hat and MySQL also plan to test the MySQL database with Red Hat's Cluster Suite and Global File System.

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