Former CEO: MySQL's Installed Base Will Keep It Independent

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2009-11-06

Former CEO: MySQL's Installed Base Will Keep It Independent

While Oracle tussles with the European Commission over sanctioning its $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems and the future development of the Sun-owned MySQL, industry stakeholders are posting pro and con opinions-mostly con, as it turns out-about whether Oracle can ever be a suitable home for the popular open-source Web database.

The EC, which serves as the antitrust regulator of the European Union, has been withholding its blessing on the deal until it is satisfied that MySQL will be allowed to innovate and compete fairly in the IT marketplace. The fact that Oracle's own proprietary database often competes directly against it is seen as a huge conflict of interest; obviously, this has been the crux of the problem.

However, few observers have more insight into the reality of the situation than M??ærten Mickos, currently an adviser to a major Silicon Valley venture capital firm. Mickos was CEO of MySQL for eight years and a major force in bringing it to world attention. He also guided it for a time within Sun after the company bought the Swedish franchise for $1 billion in January 2008.

Mickos on Oct. 9 wrote a letter to Neelie Kroes, the competition commissioner of the EC, advising the EC to sanction the deal.

In a Nov. 3 interview with eWEEK, Mickos made it clear that he is now in no way involved with MySQL, either as an investor or adviser, and is simply an interested observer at this point. However, knowing MySQL, Sun and Oracle and their respective communities as intimately as he does puts Mickos in a unique position to assess what should happen to MySQL.

"I don't specifically have an opinion on where it should be," Mickos told eWEEK. "I'm just saying that there's no rational argument for not letting the company who's buying Sun have all of Sun."

Does Mickos see a problem with the world's largest enterprise database maker-Oracle-swallowing its largest and most successful open-source competitor?

"They [the EC] see a problem, and I understand the questions, and the questions are good to ask, but I think also the answers are clear: Sure, MySQL as part of Oracle would be in a different constellation to some degree, but any company will have multiple scenarios going forward," Mickos said.

"The MySQL business is a very strong business, with enormous potential in the next 10 to 20 years. It can do fantastically well within Sun. It can do fantastically well within Oracle. It can do fantastically well on its own as well. I'm not speculating on what the best scenario is. I'm just saying that if somebody rightfully makes an acquisition, there should be no reason not to allow it."

Mickos said that the current estimate of installations is 12 million globally. Because MySQL is a freely available and downloadable software package, it is virtually impossible to chart how many deployments are currently being used in the world at any given time.

How Much Further Can MySQL Grow?

Putting all the estimates aside, how much further can MySQL grow?

"I think it can go very far because the Web growing on its own, and it is penetrating the enterprise," Mickos said. "Web usage is growing, the enterprise is growing, and we have the mobile Internet growing. All three of those massive, massive movements feed into open source in general and MySQL in particular."

Mickos said that new Web 2.0-type companies continue to start up-most with little or no funding-and that this comprises a great opportunity for MySQL and open source in general.

"The installed base today is huge. A lot of them are startup companies by people with very little money and very little business around them. But most of that will grow and turn into significant business, and that's why there's a great business for MySQL as such, and for the open-source stack in general," Mickos said.

Does Mickos agree with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison that MySQL has carved out its own place in the market and doesn't compete directly with Oracle's proprietary databases?

"MySQL most certainly competes with Oracle," Mickos said. "And successfully so. But what must be remembered in terms of dollars in that competition, it is not significant enough to warrant an antitrust consideration. Secondly, this competition happens partly outside of the business-in the free, installed base.

"So no matter who owns MySQL, the competition will continue to exist."

Even if Oracle does ultimately own the MySQL code base and act as the enterprise headquarters for the database, "MySQL will still apply price pressure on Oracle," Mickos said. "That won't change. This is why there's no reason to stop the acquisition."

Mickos also said he believes Oracle has very strong motivations to continue to develop MySQL.

"It's a new victory for them-a new market to go into that they would otherwise have difficulties addressing," Mickos said. "Facebook would never consider running Oracle as a database-Facebook runs completely on MySQL. It's a huge new market."

Even if Oracle would have some other intentions or would somehow not live up to its own stated intentions to continue to develop the database, Mickos said, "the competitive pressure that MySQL exerts on the market is there, no matter who owns the product.

"No matter who owns the trademark, the copyright, has access to the best employee talent-even if those are controlled by one entity-the market forces are outside of it in the free installed base," Mickos said.

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