MySQL: Great customer list, but is it 'mature' software

The easy-to-administer database is a developer favorite and a required ingredient for Web 2.0 start-ups. But MySQL still isn't breaking into the glass house

Last April, MySQL's CEO Marten Mickos, kicked off the opening day of the 2007 MySQL Conference and Expo by stating "open source is simply a smarter method to develop and distribute software -- a way to promote software users' freedoms in addition to protecting its creators' rights."

This is a long way from yesteryear, before the dawn of open source technology and the birth of MySQL.

The big three proprietary suppliers of database software -- Oracle, IBM and Microsoft, compete in multi-billion dollar market, at one time snubbed their nose at the arrival of MySQL. After all, they all had mature, sophisticated products with advanced features, analytics and core database software -- and their products are not "open" or free for a reason. The times are a changing. Now, as reluctant as they are to admit it, the momentum of MySQL is indeed something to worry about.

MySQL is owned and sponsored by the Swedish firm MySQL, a for-profit firm. It holds the copyright to most of their code base and touts more than 11 million installations of the software worldwide. The company profits by developing and maintaining the system while selling support and service contracts, and proprietary-licensed copies of MySQL. The company brought in some US$50 million in revenue in 2006, up from US$34 million in 2005, and US$6.5 million in 2002, and it touts some 50,000 downloads per day -- even though many users can skip downloading because their Linux distributions and hosting plans already include MySQL bundled and ready to run. Developers use MySQL for its reliability, scalability, simplicity and big cost savings in total cost of ownership.

"I don't think other database vendors are doing anything to make it easier for MySQL to interact," says Dirk Elmendorf, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Evangelist of Rackspace.

Elmendorf makes the point though that in many cases, MySQL isn't fully replacing proprietary database technology, but supplementing it. "I have seen MySQL used in situations where you needed to take load off of the main Oracle database servers. The licensing structure can make this very cost effective assuming you don't mind allowing multiple database engines in your deployment. I think in many cases people look at MySQL from a cost perspective first. The reality is that in some cases you pay for features you don't need with some of the larger database engines."

"The past few years have brought maturity to the platform, especially in the areas of enterprise features - from the addition of the InnoDB engine providing transactions and referential integrity, to the addition of stored procedures and triggers," explains Craig McElroy, CTO of Contegix -- a provider of managed Web hosting and application services offering dedicated servers running on Linux and Mac OS X.

"While its roots and original strengths were strictly in performance, this often came at the expense of a lacking feature set," he adds. "MySQL has managed to grow to fill those once gaping features [that] set holes while maintaining the focus on performance and scalability."

These gaping holes still stand out despite its long and rich history, and some prejudice still lingers in the mind of many. Many have had the perception that MySQL was introduced as a niche database, yet its adoption is proving it to be more than that. Before its 5.0 release, critics complained that it lacked many standard relational database management system (RDBMS) features. There had been complaints that MySQL isn't "robust" enough for many uses and applications. Still the company defends its technology and says that often a critic still refers to an old release, or that their comment represents a "matter of taste."

Their best defense of their product is their customer list, which includes YouTube, Yahoo, Cisco, The Associated Press and Cox Communications among other Internet giants. Google runs MySQL and even released a set of open source software, called google-mysql-tools, to help manage large MySQL installations.

McElroy maintains that one thing that sets MySQL apart in the open source database market is its highly flexible, integrated replication. "I believe this is one of the key elements which has propelled MySQL to be the database engine of choice for so many high profile Internet sites," he says. "Judging from the road map and current development lines, replication will become more and more robust in future releases."

Craig Thomas, CTO of GroundWork Open Source, a California firm that uses open source solutions for its systems and network monitoring and management software, says his firm uses MySQL for its deployments.

"There are several key components to our application's database design, including a high-speed transactional store for status, event, and performance information collected from a series of monitor data sources," Thomas says. "We use a variety of open source components, including Spring and Hibernate, as the platform for this tier. Our architecture and implementation are designed for database independence, but at the present time all of our deployments are on MySQL."

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