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Despite lingering skepticism, Oracle soldiers on with MySQL

Oracle has announced a MySQL 5.6 development release and continues to proclaim its dedication to the open source database platform, despite ongoing skepticism.

Oracle’s MySQL 5.6 development release, announced Monday, may quell some of the concerns about the company’s investment in the open source database platform. But skepticism in the marketplace is likely to continue.

The development release for MySQL 5.6 comes just a few months after Oracle announced the general availability of MySQL 5.5. Though Oracle officials wouldn’t say exactly when MySQL 5.6 will be generally available, the rule of thumb is 18 to 24 months between releases. That points to the second half of 2012 as a release target for MySQL 5.6.

Version 5.6 includes enhancements to the InnoDB storage engine, an improved optimizer for better query performance and more partitioning options. It is available at the MySQL download site.

MySQL, of course, was one of the major sticking points in Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems last year. Sun had acquired MySQL AB not long before then, and European regulatory officials were concerned that Oracle’s acquisition of an open source database platform could shrink the database market. Oracle responded with some promises for MySQL, including one to develop the open source version of MySQL for at least five years following the acquisition.

As a result, Oracle has essentially split the development of MySQL into two spheres: one is through the General Public License (GPL), which is open source, and the other is MySQL Enterprise Edition, a commercially licensed product with bells and whistles not included in the GPL version.

For one end user, a senior manager of database operations at a biotechnology company, MySQL presents an opportunity to lessen licensing costs by moving whatever database workloads it can away from Oracle.

“We’ll always try to do MySQL whenever we can because of the lower cost,” said the manager, who asked that his identity be withheld. “When someone comes to us with a database need, we try to move them to MySQL. But sometimes in the multi-terabyte environments, we have to go with Oracle.”

One place where the manager thought MySQL needed improvement was in the area of hot backup, where systems are backed up without any downtime. He said they looked at some third-party products to work with MySQL, but thus far haven’t found anything sufficient.

Stories like those are not the ones Oracle wants to hear. The company is instead positioning MySQL as competition to Microsoft SQL Server. That was evident enough in a presentation Monday at the Collaborate conference in Orlando by Tomas Ulin, Oracle vice president of MySQL development, who put up a slide with a chart comparing the costs of MySQL versus SQL Server. According to Oracle, the differences measures in the six figures per year.

Oracle has also put effort in improving the MySQL Installer for Windows, Ulin said, and in short, has delivered on its promises to invest in MySQL.

“We have released eight GA products (related to MySQL),” he said. “This is the largest number of GA releases that anyone has done in a year with MySQL.”

Andrew Flower, president of the International Oracle Users Group, said that Oracle has done a good job on the technological side of MySQL.

“I’m not a MySQL expert, but those that are [say the] quality of Version 5.5 is outstanding, so that was great,” he said. But he added that there have been some “communication challenges” due to the legal process of the Sun acquisition and some predisposed fear, uncertainty and doubt within the MySQL community of the acquisition.

“There was a vacuum of communication where Oracle, and in particular those that owned the MySQL part, not really communicating with the community all that well,” he said.

But communication isn’t the only issue MySQL users are concerned with when it comes to Oracle, according to Kaj Arno, the former vice president of the MySQL Community at MySQL AB and then Sun. Arno said he expects Oracle to continue to develop the GPL version of MySQL, if for no other reason than that reneging on its promises could hurt its reputation in future acquisitions. But Arno, who is now vice president of products for SkySQL, a MySQL services provider, said there are open source tools in the MySQL ecosystem that often clash with Oracle’s own products.

One example is ScaleDB, a storage engine often called the Oracle RAC of MySQL. ScaleDB was marketed heavily when MySQL AB was on its own, but Arno doesn’t expect that to continue.

“It would be stupid of Oracle to promote such a combination,” he said. “It would cannibalize what they’re providing in the way of their own solutions.”

Arno said that move by Oracle is likely in the interests of its own shareholders, “but is probably contrary to the interest of MySQL users.”

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