MySQL Scores the Brains Behind Firebird

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2006-02-23

MySQL Scores the Brains Behind Firebird

MySQL has hired Jim Starkey, creator of the InterBase database—which later became the popular open-source Firebird database—in addition to scooping up Starkeys one-man Firebird-based company, Netfrastructure.

Starkey posted a letter to the Firebird community advising them of the news on Feb. 18.

In the letter, Starkey said that he will be working full-time for MySQL, perhaps occasionally contributing input to Firebird development, but no longer taking an active role.

Starkeys wife, Ann Harrison, one of the primary Firebird developers, will work for MySQL part-time, but she will continue to be active in the Firebird project, Starkey wrote.

MySQL confirmed that Harrison will be joining MySQLs architecture group, while Starkey will take on the role of senior software architect.

With the acquisition, MySQL not only scores Starkeys renowned database brainpower—it also acquires Netfrastructure.

The companys product, which Starkey designed in the late 90s, reimplements the Firebird database architecture and combines it with a Web-based application server front end, a database, a Web server and a Java virtual machine.

What MySQL does not acquire, contrary to news reports, is the Firebird code base, which is open-source.

"MySQL and Firebird will continue as two distinct code bases," said Steve Curry, a spokesperson for MySQL, in an e-mail exchange.

"Any MySQL projects that [Starkey] is involved in will be based on new work, not re-use of existing Firebird or InterBase code. Firebird is a fine product, one that we do not see as a competitor."

Starkey echoed the theme of non-competition in his letter.

"MySQL and Firebird have never seen each other as competitors, and I doubt this will change in the future," Starkey wrote.

"The projects have different open-source philosophies, different technologies, different customer bases, and different sweet spots. The ideas behind the two projects are, happily, public and available to all. If MySQL and Firebird compete, it is only competition in offering the best possible support to their respective customers."

The open-source community is in apparent agreement that the acquisition is MySQLs way of outwitting Oracle. "…This sure looks like MySQLs play to get out from under the shadow of the recent Oracle maneuvers," blogged Robert Treat, echoing what many are posting in the Firebird community forum and elsewhere.

Next Page: The buying battle.

The Buying Battle

Indeed, scoring the noted database expert is the latest salvo in what many have seen as a small war between Oracle and the tiny Swedish database open-source company.

Oracle has in recent months purchased both of the transactional storage engines that are crucial to MySQL 5.0, the latest enterprise-level version of the database.

The first buy was Oracles purchase of Innobase in October, in which Oracle gained control of the InnoDB storage engine.

The second buy came Feb. 14 when Oracle pounced on Sleepycat Software, thereby gaining control of the Berkeley DB embedded, open-source database.

That all comes on top of Oracle having tried to buy MySQL itself at an undisclosed time and for an undisclosed price, according to what MySQL CEO Marten Mickos told CNET during the recent Open Source Business Conference.

Its widely agreed that MySQL needs to create its own transactional storage engine to wean itself from relying on the engines that are now under Oracles control.

Coding a transactional engine is no easy task, however, and some have questioned whether MySQL had the particular, heavy-duty skills on hand to tackle the job.

Starkey will bring the skills such a task requires, and then some. Over the years, he was responsible for designing DECs relational database architecture and for creating the InterBase RDBMS, which was the first relational database to support multi-versioning, event alerters, arrays, triggers and BLOBs.

He and Harrison worked on the design and development of InterBase through its various owners, including InterBase Software Corp., which Starkey founded, Ashton-Tate and Borland International.

Since 2000, theyve worked on the related open-source software project, Firebird.

Starkey has also produced Web application development environments, object-oriented tools and visual IDEs.

MySQLs Curry said that its too early to get into the specifics of what Starkey will be doing at MySQL, but that his expertise will be "shared throughout the companys development organization, including various features in future versions of MySQL database server and pluggable storage engine architecture."

MySQL is "thrilled to have him on board," Curry said, "since there are plenty of projects where he can help MySQL deliver better products."

As for Netfrastructure, its a one-person firm, and Starkey and Harrison are seen as the real plums of the acquisition, Curry said.

Still, MySQL plans to figure out over time how and if to implement the technology assets to become open-source products.

In the meantime, MySQL will continue to support Netfrastructure customers, Curry said.

MySQL plans to announce not only the hire of Starkey and Harrison on Feb. 27, but also that its acquired a new chief technology officer, Taneli Otala.

Otala comes to MySQL after a stint as CTO and vice president of Engineering for SenSage, a provider of enterprise security analytics.

Hes also held executive and senior engineering management positions with Oracle, Verano, Zambeel, GlobalCenter/Global Crossing and Alcom Corp. and founded Otasoft Oy Inc.

He studied electrical and mechanical engineering at the University of Oulu in his native Finland.

"Im very happy that Jim, Ann and Taneli have joined MySQL AB," Michael "Monty" Widenius, MySQLs co-founder, is quoted as saying in a draft of the press release.

"There is plenty of work to go around, and with their combined experience, they can help us deliver on all the plans that we havent had time to pursue yet—and also supply us with lots of fresh new ideas."

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