Open source: It's time to get down to business

IT vendors are trying to make the open-source process better for business users. There's still work to do

Don MacAskill calls himself a "huge fan" of open-source software in general, and the MySQL database in particular. MySQL is one of the core technologies used at SmugMug, an online photo-sharing service, where MacAskill is CEO.

But now MacAskill finds himself hoping that MySQL can be rescued and righted by Sun Microsystems-- a traditional IT vendor, albeit one that has fully embraced the open-source process in recent years.

Sun's acquisition of MySQL AB last month is the biggest in a series of steps that vendors have taken to try to improve the open-source experience for corporate users. That's becoming a pressing need as more companies adopt open-source software -- and as vendors push hard to increase the adoption rate even further.

But there's still a long way to go to soothe user concerns over issues such as the timely delivery of new features and bug fixes, the need for more predictable product road maps, and the lack of IT workers with open-source skills and experience.

At SmugMug, for example, MacAskill is still waiting for fixes to a scalability problem that led him to write in a January blog post that he was "seriously considering" not renewing the company's MySQL Enterprise support contract when it expires later this year.

As SmugMug adds more processor cores to its MySQL servers, performance isn't increasing like it should, MacAskill said. The problem stems from concurrency problems between MySQL and InnoDB, the most widely used storage engine for the database.

MacAskill said he and other users tried for years to get MySQL to address the glitches, "and all we got back was radio silence." Eventually, users such as Google developed their own patches in an effort to fix the performance problem, but MySQL has been slow to incorporate the patches into the database.

Zack Urlocker, MySQL's executive vice president of products, said in a response to MacAskill's January blog post that MySQL had added some fixes to new database releases and was reviewing Google's patches. MySQL was also looking forward to tapping into Sun's "great expertise in scaling performance," Urlocker wrote.

MacAskill said he hopes that Sun, which he viewed as an IT dinosaur a few years ago, can solve the scalability problem. And despite the nature of open source, he would prefer that the fix come as part of the vendor's support of the database. "We have our own product to build here," he noted.

The uncertainties of the open-source development model continue to drive some corporate users away. For example, Dale Frantz, CIO at Auto Warehousing Co., considered desktop Linux before deciding last year to replace the new-car processing company's PCs with Macintosh systems.

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