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The dawn of MySQL-fork database vendors?

I must admint I was greatly impressed by the Oracle activity on MySQL yesterday. I cannot say I didn't see it was coming, but most certainly the magnitude of what happened, the flood of announcements, was a bit overwhelming. Looking at the list of improvements, I started wondering what can it actually mean to the MySQL ecosystem.

Several years ago MySQL was forked into several different projects driven by groups of passionates as well as commercial businesses. Many considered the pace of MySQL evolution to be insufficient, while some didn't agree with the direction or was complaining on the quality.

These were not unfounded. Rather than on the software itself, MySQL AB was focusing more on preparing itself for public offering, which eventually didn't happen. It sold out to Sun. However, instead of getting a huge boost from being part of a company that was doing a lot of software development after all, the database hit rock bottom. It turned out Sun had no idea for this product. They started using marketing as the driving force, while development practically stopped (from a user's perspective). At the same time MySQL itself was split between two vendors, which wasn't making things any easier. Sun owned the database itself, while Oracle the primary-to-be storage engine - InnoDB.

The entire situation allowed the forked projects to grow and gain some market share. They offered new features people wanted. Often simple things, even, but sometimes also revolutionary. Eventually they started shaping MySQL itself. Sun, and later also Oracle, which acquired Sun, began including some of their major work into the mainstream code. In the mean time Percona and MariaDB turned into true commercial vendors offering MySQL-based databases with proper release cycles, product support, life cycle management, and so on. One thing is certain. They used the opportunity when their "opponent" was weak.

Did something change yesterday?

Oracle showed it was coming back to the game. And strong. The company definitely has all the arguments on its side. It can make databases, it knows how to do it. It employs a lot of insanely smart developers working on MySQL, such as Yasufumi Kinoshita with whom I had the pleasure working during my days at Percona, and who largely made Percona Server what it is today. Oracle deliberately chose the moment for publishing all these articles to coincide with Percona Live conference in Santa Clara. It is not accidental, it is a message. How many announcements, lectures or claims from MariaDB, SkySQL, or Percona may not be so valid anymore today?

It is important to remember that MySQL 5.6 is the first true Oracle release and not something inherited from Sun. It is the first time the company can show how serious it is going to be about this database. If MySQL is going to evolve rapidly, can the alternative vendors keep up with this?

It does not seem likely, because incorporating own patches into a continuously changing code base may become very expensive. At the same time, they cannot afford significant delays in releasing up-to-date versions, because otherwise they will just be filling a niche for the few particularly interested in using their software, but they won't part of the mainstream anymore. From the business perspective, supporting a niche software that is free, may not make too much sense.

In the end, I do not think these businesses are going to disappear, contrary to what the title may suggest. After all, developing MySQL forks is just part of what they do. But this particular area of business may be going away, or the model shall change dramatically, if Oracle decides to keep pulling aces out of the sleeve.

What do you think?

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