MySQL, Open Source's Version of "Too Big to Fail" ?

When I was younger, I remember hearing the phrase “too big to fail” being used to describe very large companies in the US, often financial institutions of some type. At the time I had thought the meaning of this phrase was an indicator of size of a company, the diversity of it’s business dealings, and it’s financial reserves. The idea was that, as the size of the company grew, its ability to withstand a hit in any one market would increase, because other areas of the business could keep it going. Last year as the financial crisis was getting into full swing and our government was looking at bailing out companies, this phrase took on a fairly different meaning, more so referring to the idea that a company had grown so big and so well integrated into the daily economy that it’s failure would be catastrophic to the larger financial ecosystem. Or as I more cynically thought of it, the company had grown so big it was able to grease politicians at every level of the system thereby ensuring its future. Too big to fail indeed. So now we look at the story of MySQL, and the wild cries from its former leader about the need to save mysql. No surprise coming from him, but a little bit of surprise that people would buy into the story when so many holes are easily apparent. Right off the bat the claims of Oracle’s monopoly are almost laughable; Oracle is certainly powerful, but they are by no means a monopoly; by most accounts they don’t own even 50% of the database market-share, whether you look at revenue or mindshare. Certainly if they were a monopoly power we would see far more influence from them within the industry; a good example is how they were unable to push their recursive query syntax into the SQL standard. Does that sound like monopoly power? But even if it were true, that shouldn’t mean the end of MySQL. MySQL is one of the largest open source projects on the planet; it’s user base certainly in the millions. You would think that such a large user base would given the software the strength to withstand the raise and fall of corporate masters, just like our companies get stronger legs to stand on as they spread out into different segments. This wouldn’t be the first time that open source licensing has saved software from a poor commercial fate, in fact it isn’t even the first time in the realm of open source databases. Both Ingres and Firebird have had their share of bumpy roads, and in the end their open source nature has allowed companies to rebuild around those products and users to continue to press forward with the software, long after the commercial vendors were aiming to shut their doors. Sure if these open source databases can do it, then MySQL and it’s community must be big enough not to fail, no? Apparently not. Instead of this belief from MySQL’s founder, instead of focusing energy into building a more stable structure around MySQL (like OurDelta and/or the Open Database Alliance), or enhancing alternatives to MySQL (MariaDB, Drizzle), we instead get a different version of “Too Big To Fail”. We get told about the importance of MySQL as competition for Oracle, as if Open Source could not compete against Oracle without a commercially backed MySQL. We see demands for restrictions to be placed on Oracle that MySQL’s own customers have asked for for years and MySQL AB ignored. We see complaints about Oracles lack of discussion on their plans for MySQL, and when they do speak out, we’re told that these promises are empty, even though they are better than the “no promises” we got from MySQL and Sun. We are told that, like the financial companies did last fall, that we must force the government to intervene, to prop up MySQL so that it will have a future going forward. The European Union is concerned about keeping competition in the database market; this sounds like a fair goal to me. But exactly which competition are they concerned about? The commercial database market has healthy competition from several major vendors (Oracle, IBM, Microsoft) as well as many old and newer smaller commercial vendors (Sybase, Progress, Vertica). The open source world mirrors this, from well establish open source projects (Postgres, Sqlite), to cross-over open source projects/products in the vein of MySQL itself (Ingres or EnterpriseDB), to upcoming systems that are pushing their way into database management (Hadoop, Tokyo Cabinet). Have no fear, if you want competition in the database market, it’s there. Even if MySQL were to disappear (and it won’t), the competition will be there. I would agree that a MySQL under Oracle would mean less competition between *those two products*, in the way that we saw IBM settle differences between Informix and DB2, but this will have virtually zero impact on the database industry as a whole when it comes to the number of choices available. (Trust me, there is waay to much money to be made from a MySQL that gets “killed” by Oracle for companies not to give it a go) Disclosure: I work at OmniTI, we do database management and consulting for various database systems including Oracle and MySQL. I don’t think the Oracle purchase affects my bottom line either way, but I have to admit I would feel safer upgrading an Oracle product than a MySQL product, so that probably makes me less afraid of an Oracle purchase than your average MySQL user. OTOH, I’ve actually hung out with Monty on occasion, and Black Vodka aside, I’m pretty sure I’d rather go drinking with him than Larry. *shrug*