MySQL: Now and Then… and Dual License Community Impact

Stephen O’Grady recently posted a Q&A pertaining to the past, present, and future of MySQL. There’s been quite a bit going on at MySQL and Sun lately, but I’ll focus on one issue in this post – the impact of the current MySQL dual-licensing strategy. Stephen covers much more in his post, and I will be posting some additional MySQL-related thoughts soon. From the linked post:

A: Well, let’s remember what the dual license mechanism is and how it works. Here’s a basic description I wrote a while back:

A single entity such as MySQL is responsible for the overwhelming majority of all development on a given codebase. Anything they don’t produce themselves, they license. Very often this is practiced in conjunction with the dual-license model; because MySQL is responsible for virtually all of the development of the core code, they own or have licensed appropriately all of the involved IP. As such, they’re free to issue commercial licenses to those who would cannot or choose not to comply with the terms of the open source license – the GPL, in this case.

Generally, this model has served MySQL fairly well. By controlling the intellectual property, they retain the rights to relicense the code, thus protecting a revenue stream. They also were afforded a slightly greater protection from forks versus more collaboratively developed projects like Linux, in that they – theoretically – employed the majority of the people qualified and paid to work on the codebase at the lowest levels. But let’s come back to that.

What’s the catch to the model? In part, it’s that the burden of development is born almost entirely by the MySQL staff, but the more relevant concern here is the inability to consume external contributions – even if they’re excellent – without licensing them.

Stated more simply: as long as MySQL remains committed to the dual licensing model, it will be unable to accept the same patch set that open source only versions of the code can, because they do not share the same licensing concerns. Which is why we’ve seen these spring up, and possibly why the MySQL-derived Drizzle project has taken a different approach from its parent.

For a long time, most viewed the control that MySQL AB had as a strength, at least from a business perspective. With the high quality work that is now going on outside MySQL/Sun, however, that is increasingly not the case. Percona, Proven Scaling, OurDelta, Google and others are doing some really cool things these days. The current thinking for many is that the best bang for the buck when it comes to MySQL is now outside MySQL. That’s never happened before and I think it shifts the entire MySQL landscape. The question for Sun now becomes: when will the ability to consume external contributions outweigh the perceived benefits of the dual-license strategy that inhibits the consumption of those contributions? While Drizzle may change some of this, I think it’s a question Sun is going to have to answer (for its own good) sooner… rather than later.

–jeremy

MySQL licensing redux

A follow up to one of the more divisive announcements made at the MySQL Conference. From the 451 Group Blog:

After all the fuss it appears that MySQL will be remaining open source after all. As Kaj Arno and Monty Widenius report, Marten Mickos announced at CommunityOne that the MySQL Server will stay open source, as well as the forthcoming encryption and compression backup features, which MySQL had considered making available only to paying customers.

“The change comes from MySQL now being part of Sun Microsystems. Our initial plans were made for a company considering an IPO, but made less sense in the context of Sun, a large company with a whole family of complementary open source software and hardware products,” writes Kaj.

“My hope is that the experiment when it comes to closed source extensions developed by Sun is now ended. As far as I know, there is no existing plans for any closed source extensions to the MySQL server,” adds Monty.

While that seems pretty clear cut, there is still room for a little confusion. Kaj writes: “To financially support MySQL’s free and open source platform, we have a business model which allows both community and commercial add-ons, and we remain committed to it.”

Monty clarifies: “I interpret this, in the context of Mårten’s and Jonathan’s announcements, that we will continue to support and make available commercial addons to the MySQL server from third party, like the Infobright storage engine. Things that we develop ourselves at Sun, at least on the server, will continue to be open source.”

It was always made clear that the decision to ship closed extensions was made before the Sun acquisition. It’s good to see that Sun stepped up, listened to feedback and changed this. It may have made sense for a company looking to IPO, but it doesn’t make sense for Sun. While it’s now clear that Sun-shipped server code will now be open, they also made it clear that 3rd party commercial extensions will continue to be embraced. I see that as a good thing. The “at least on the server” qualifier does leave the door open for something on the MySQL periphery to be closed, but that’s been the case for a few years now (MySQL Monitor for instance). If you’d like to know more about the announcement, Monty has posted his opinion:

I was yesterday attending the “Open Tuesday” Sun & MySQL event. One of the first questions I got from the audience during my questions & answer session was what is my take of the recent MySQL proposition of having closed source parts/modules in the server.

I was very happy to be able to say that Mårten some hours earlier had announced on CommuntyOne that the MySQL server is and is always going to be open source.

It’s very good to see that Mårten is continuing to be responsive to the MySQL community and to the MySQL customers. Thanks to Mårten for doing the right thing! Thanks to the MySQL community for expressing their opinions!

Monty also posted a very good (and honest) assesment of the MySQL Conference here.

–jeremy

The OpenSolaris Community v2: Prepare Yourself

Sun is a company I plan on covering a bit more as they continue to delve deeper into Open Source. I’ve commented on the current messaging issue Sun has around its Open Source participation previously. I haven’t been following Open Solaris as much as I’d have liked, but this post by Ben gets you up to speed on the current situation:

Ian Murdock’s distro formly known as “Indiana” will be birthed as “OpenSolaris” in less than a week, being debuted at CommunityOne on May 5th. This will be a major landmark even in the history of Solaris, right up there with the BSD-to-SysV transition and release of the code. There is no talk at Sun regarding Solaris 11, when pushed the only quote I get is “over my dead body”, apparently coming from high within the organization. While no one will clarify on the situation, the current vibe seems to be that Solaris 10 will be with us for a very long time, in update purgatory, while the future revolves around the OpenSolaris distribution. Ultimately the decision will probly be made by Sun’s attempts to get ISV’s behind OpenSolaris… but this is only my hunch, I’ll continue pushing Sun to clarify the roadmap, perhaps at CommunityOne will learn more.

… Its time for a community reset. With the release of the OpenSolaris distro the last bits of the community started by Andy Tucker and Claire Giordano will be, in my view, gone away. The experiment in community official ended and replaced. Rather than the community being joint owners of Solaris it will be affirmed that Sun is firmly staying at the helm and we’re free to board the train and pitch in if we choose. Those of us fighting against the tide are now presented with a choice… give up and try to re-invent our roles in the “new reality” or continue to fight the inevitable like so many of those in our community who still whine if an OS doesn’t run on an i386 with 512K of RAM looking like a senile prick.

It seems clear to me that Sun is not going to give up full control of Open Solaris. To be fair, Red Hat didn’t go as open with Fedora as was initially assumed either. In the end, much of it comes down to how Sun perceives Solaris driving its bottom line. It used to be that Solaris sold expensive SPARC hardware. That’s not as much the case any more. Where that leaves Solaris is unclear to me. Sun is still driving innovation – you need look no further than DTrace and ZFS to see evidence of that. Does that sell enough Sun hardware to justify the engineering costs associated with Solaris? I don’t know, but at some point Sun is going to have to look very at that question and they may not like the answer they get.

While catching up on Open Solaris, I also came across two good posts by Ted. In What Sun was trying to do with Open Solaris he looks into what kinds of participation Sun was originally looking for when they launched Open Solaris. His Organic vs. Non-organic Open Source follow up delves into a Brian Aker comment about projects moving between “organic” and “non-organic” (or in the case of Solaris->Open Solaris, moving between proprietary and either organic/non-organic Open Source). These kind of issues are going to be getting more and more scrutiny if I had to guess, as more and more commercial Open Source companies are going to have to figure out their business models and hit revenue goals. The commercial Open Source space is starting to mature, and I don’t think some people are going to like it.

–jeremy

Sun and Open Source

Sun takes a lot of heat in the community. Some would say too much, others would say not enough. I find the situation fascinating, really… and think it’s a good look into the complex and sometimes antithetical nature of the Open Source ecosystem. I don’t think it’s disputable the Sun has done a ton for Open Source. They have deep roots in OSS and to this day contribute a ton of code and mindshare. They have strayed off the path a bit at times and I think part of the uneasiness has to do with their waffling opinion on Linux. To me, it seems like much of this is in the past, but reputations die hard. One thing that is not in the past, and is the current cause of some consternation, is that Sun likes to control projects more then some in the Open Source world are willing to tolerate. The did it with Java, OOo and now OpenSolaris. Roy Fielding recently stepped down from the OpenSolaris project due to this and I think he brings up some valid concerns. I also think much of the problem Sun has in this regard isn’t how they act, but is around their messaging. As Roy mentioned in his email, companies like MySQL were able to adopt products that are truly Open Source with a decision making structure that was mostly controlled within the company. Not many people gave MySQL heat about that, because they were quite up front and transparent about it. Sun is not always so. My next point, as you may have guessed, is that with the recent MySQL AB acquisition, Sun has the opportunely to study and learn from the culture that MySQL was able to create. While I still have some concerns, the more I think about the deal the more I think it made a ton of sense for Sun.

While on the topic of Sun and Open Source, it would be hard to not mention the dust kicked up recently by this post. I do have some commentary, but will save it for a future post. I will say now that I do have some concerns that Sun will be tempted to push MySQL on Solaris, but I don’t think Linux support of MySQL will suffer any time soon. If you’d like some background on the Linux and OpenSolaris issue, this is a great post for you.

–jeremy

What Makes a Freedom Fighter Join a Giant? or Ten Reasons to Get Acquired

An interesting inside look on what went into the MySQL end of the acquisition decision from Mårten Mickos has recently been posted.

At MySQL there were few things we loved as much as the thought of being our own masters. We had always been contrarians and we prided ourselves with not following what we saw as outdated ideas from big companies. We made the dolphin on our logo jump surprisingly from right to left (as opposed to the typical left to right) – because we wanted it to be clear: we were not afraid to be different. We decided that people can work from home so we can hire the best and brightest anywhere in the world – not just Stockholm, Seattle or Silicon Valley. We cherished heated debates in the company – and there were many. When other companies dictated alignment, we celebrated dissonance and accepted that there could be multiple viewpoints. When others gathered their staff at a prestigious hotel somewhere in the USA, we summoned our engineers to a primitive sanatorium outside St. Petersburg, Russia. We did it our way. At times it was difficult –even chaotic, but we loved it even more for that reason. It created a passion and strength inside the company.

So why did we change our minds in a few short weeks? What made us think that Sun Microsystems would be a good home for us? What made this better than an IPO? Why did we abandon our revolution for a stable nation? What was it in Sun Microsystems that attracted us? And, most importantly, will we be able to maintain the passion that has driven us to where we are today?

Let me start in a typical Scandinavian contrarian way: Perhaps we will be unable to maintain our passion within Sun. And at the most extreme, perhaps we should not have done this deal. The reality is it will take many years before we can judge this decision to know if it was the right course.

But let me also state that there is probably no better place for this “dirty dozen” (or perhaps “fanatical four hundred”) of MySQL than inside Sun Microsystems.

I’ve always really liked and had a huge amount of respect for both Mårten and the MySQL founders. They built a great company and a great product, and have been open and transparent the entire time. How this acquisition pans out has huge implications for Open Source IMHO. MySQL AB was on target to become one of the largest pure play Open Source companies in the world. With more and more Open Source companies being scooped up by traditional players and consolidators, it remains unclear to me how many pure play Open Source companies we’ll see in 5+ years. I think the ramifications of that are still not well understood (or given enough attention for that matter). Only time will tell.

–jeremy

Sun acquires MySQL II

A quick follow up to a previous post. The buzz created by the Sun acquisition announcement is still going strong. I’m still digesting the news and doing additional reading, but here are some interesting items I’ve run across.

Other Open Source database participants have been quite positive about the news. Josh Berkus, a member of the PostgreSQL Core Team and a Sun employee, was quick to welcome Brian Aker and the MySQL team aboard. You can see comments from Andy Astor, of EnterpriseDB here. This is friendlier stuff then you typically see in the proprietary world. I think that’s a function of both Open Source being different and us still being quite early on the adoption curve (where a rising tide is seen as lifting all boats).

From Matt: Guess how long the entire process, beginning to end, took? Five weeks. From the first phone call to today’s announcement, the deal took five weeks. That time frame is absolutely astounding. With a company the size of Sun, getting a simple partnership deal done usually takes more than five weeks. To have an acquisition of this size pulled off (Sun spent about 36% of its cash on the deal) is a testament to how bad they wanted a deal done.

Here’s a quick comparison to the BEA deal by Savio:
First off, kudos to Sun for valuing MySQL at this price. The deal represents ~36% of Sun’s Cash & Cash Equivalents (of $2.7B) on hand at the end of their last quarter (Sept. 2007). But considering how cheap debt is these days, Sun could probably fund a portion of the deal through cheap debt.

A reader commented on BEA and MySQL being founded in the same year, but BEA being sold for 8x more than MySQL. True, but BEA has ~$1.5B in revenue versus ~$60M for MySQL. When you take revenue into account, MySQL secured 3x more in acquisition price for every dollar of revenue than did BEA. OSS vendors must be sleeping with dollar signs in their eyes tonight….

Here’s a Q&A with Stephen O’Grady:
Q: So does that make this “We’re the Dot in the Dot Com,” the sequel? With the commensurate crash to follow?
A: Some would contend that’s the case, yes. Particularly a couple of members of the media we’ve spoken with. And of course it is possible that the model propping up Google’s immense valuation and those similar to it will prove to be similarly illusory. But somehow I doubt it. The fact is that the Google’s of the world have made real what Sun itself could not: a network that is, in fact, the computer. And the Google’s of the world, far more often than not, run on MySQL. Via this single acquisition, Sun’s made itself a relevant vendor in a space that very few, if any, of the larger commercial systems suppliers can play in.

Whether you agree with the valuation or not, YouTube sold for $1.6 billion, and consumed virtually no software from any of the major vendors. If that acquisition was to take place today, they would have been buying from Sun.

Not everyone is seeing this as a positive. Jay worries about the large company syndrome and Ben wishes Sun would focus on their core. Sun’s poor history with acquisitions seems to come up a lot, but none of those were under Schwartz.

Some additional comments:

* The MySQL founders are happy with the deal. That’s a good thing.
* Who this impacts and who else could have pulled off an acquisition seem to be popular questions. I’d say the latter is a fairly small list: Oracle, Red Hat, IBM and maybe Google or Yahoo. Who it impacts remains to be seen, but I think the implications will be pretty far reaching.
* The possibly Google/Yahoo above brings me to an angle that I haven’t seen much commentary on. I’d expect Sun to offer some kind of “MySQL in the cloud” service that could be one component in a service offering that competes with Amazon an its S3/EC2/SimpleDB offerings.
* It’s clear that Sun has made a significant investment in the M from LAMP here. I continue to question how they feel about the L in LAMP though. This seems to be one of the biggest sticking points people have. Will MySQL focus less on Linux (which leads both MySQL sales and downloads by far, from what I understand) and more on Solaris? Will Sun push Solaris while selling MySQL? More questions than answers on this one, so we’ll have to wait and see.
* I’d expect a couple long time MySQL employees to cash out after this and quickly found some very interesting startups based on what they did at MySQL AB.

That’s all for now.

–jeremy

Sun acquires MySQL

Sun made a huge announcement today. They are acquiring MySQL AB, for roughly $1,000,000,000. From Jonathan:

But the biggest news of the day is… we’re putting a billion dollars behind the M in LAMP. If you’re an industry insider, you’ll know what that means – we’re acquiring MySQL AB, the company behind MySQL, the world’s most popular open source database.

You’ll recall I wrote about a customer event a few weeks ago, at which some of the world’s most important web companies talked to us about their technology challenges. Simultaneously, we gathered together some of the largest IT shops and their CIO’s, and spent the same two days (in adjoining rooms) listening to their views and directions.

Both sets of customers confirmed what we’ve known for years – that MySQL is by far the most popular platform on which modern developers are creating network services. From Facebook, Google and Sina.com to banks and telecommunications companies, architects looking for performance, productivity and innovation have turned to MySQL. In high schools and college campuses, at startups, at high performance computing labs and in the Global 2000. The adoption of MySQL across the globe is nothing short of breathtaking. They are the root stock from which an enormous portion of the web economy springs.

But as I pointed out, we heard some paradoxical things, too. CTO’s at startups and web companies disallow the usage of products that aren’t free and open source. They need and want access to source code to enable optimization and rapid problem resolution (although they’re happy to pay for support if they see value). Alternatively, more traditional CIO’s disallow the usage of products that aren’t backed by commercial support relationships – they’re more comfortable relying on vendors like Sun to manage global, mission critical infrastructure.

This puts products like MySQL in an interesting position. They’re a part of every web company’s infrastructure, to be sure. And though many of the more traditional companies use MySQL (from auto companies to financial institutions to banks and retailers), many have been waiting for a Fortune 500 vendor willing to step up, to provide mission critical global support.

In addition to the current MySQL offerings, Sun is unveiling new global support offerings. This has huge implications, not only for Sun and MySQL… but for Open Source in general. MySQL AB was one of the hottest commercial Open Source companies. Almost everyone thought they were headed for a 2008 IPO. Sun was already one of the largest contributors of Open Source in the world, but this puts them at the epicenter of the LAMP stack. How this will impact their on again off again relationship with Linux remains to be seen, but I’m already seeing promises that this acquisition will not impact MySQL support on non-Solaris platforms.

As you can imagine, the blogosphere is buzzing due to this announcement. I’m still digesting the news and doing as much research as I can, but the real implications of this will not be fully known for some time. I’d like to congratulation the entire MySQL AB team. Monty and David have built not only a wonderful product but a fantastic company. This is well deserved. Marten has been an exemplary Open Source CEO. Congratulations should also go to Sun. They continue to prove their dedication and understanding of Open Source. This is a fantastic pickup for them and I think it could be a great fit.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this once I have a chance to do more research and think about it further, but in the meantime here is some additional reading:

Zack Urlocker
Q&A from kaj
Press release
Tim O’Reilly

–jeremy