October 23, 2006

What MySQL Enterprise means for customers, contributors

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

Yet another company is moving toward an enterprise/open source split. Last week MySQL AB announced that it would offer two distinct versions of MySQL: the MySQL Enterprise release for paying customers, and MySQL Community Server for open source users. What does that mean for the open source community?

Kaj Arnö, MySQL's vice president of open source community relations, explained the idea behind the split on his blog. According to Arnö, the company will do more frequent binary releases of the MySQL Enterprise codebase for the Enterprise customers only. Much like the way Red Hat releases Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) as source-only, MySQL will continue to release source to Enterprise version under the GNU General Public License (GPL), but will not make binaries available to the general public. MySQL CEO Mårten Mickos says that there's nothing to stop people from taking the Enterprise source tree and compiling their own binaries, though MySQL is "not encouraging any such models."

Mickos says that the reason the company split development is "we've been so focused on building the business [that] we haven't done all we should have for the community." Splitting development into the Enterprise and Community Server distributions of MySQL, says Mickos, is "a mandate to go nuts" with experimental features and changes to MySQL that aren't suitable for the enterprise customers.

Sean Finney, one of the maintainers of Debian's MySQL packages, says that the enterprise/open source split "is probably a smart move because it opens up the development more to the community without endangering the 'keys to the castle,' so to speak."

Finney says that "time will be the judge" for how this split will affect Debian and other open source projects that use and distribute MySQL, but "assuming both trees stay under the GPL, I'm fairly optimistic this will lead to a net improvement."

If past performance is indicative of future behavior, it seems likely that MySQL will continue to work well with the open source community. According to Finney, MySQL has been "fairly cooperative" in the past when working with Debian, and "have been willing to work with us on some of the more difficult issues we've had in the past.

"I'd like to think that we've made some significant contributions back to them as well (library symbol versioning, for example). That's not to say there haven't been problems, and that there isn't room for improvement, but I'd say we have a fairly amicable relationship."

Andy Astor, president and CEO of EnterpriseDB, which sells a PostgreSQL-based database aimed at the enterprise market, says that the dual offering is a smart move for MySQL. "MySQL needs to improve its attractiveness and tooling, and I think this will be good for the product.... It's good for their customers."

However, Astor says he's not worried about a threat to EnterpriseDB's business from MySQL Enterprise. "This is neutral for EnterpriseDB.... The marketing challenge may be modestly increased." Astor says that the announcement "doesn't change the underlying technology of the database.... It's about things around the database" and not MySQL itself.

Easier community contributions

Arnö says that MySQL wants to provide an easier way to get contributions into MySQL. To that end, the company has introduced a contributor's agreement for community members to be able to contribute to MySQL. Mickos noted that "the world is very sensitive to intellectual property rights and who owns what," and that MySQL needed to be able to ask contributors if they had in fact written contributions themselves.

Some contributors may not be happy about the terms of the contribution agreement, which goes beyond ensuring that contributions belong to the contributor and require assignment of "all right, title and interest" to MySQL -- which allows MySQL to re-license contributions under any license it desires. Contributors are reassigned rights to their contribution under the agreement, but some contributors may not wish to see their software wind up in non-free software.

Mickos did say that MySQL may eventually introduce a less strict contributors' agreement for contributions that will go only into the MySQL Community Server. He also says that MySQL has a history of rewarding contributors, to the point of hiring or paying contributors for their software. "At the end of the day, we all have to put food on the table."

Astor says that the differentiation between enterprise and open source means that the open source community will "almost certainly receive less. Any company and commercial organization is going to dedicate more resources to people who pay them money, and MySQL has just stratified their customer base further."

The bottom line may be the protection of the GPL. Mickos says that the community has the ability to fork the code, if MySQL doesn't do a good job of meeting the open source community's interest. "If we do a bad job of making MySQL Community Server popular, somebody will take it and say, we'll do a better job."

New subscription service

In addition to announcing the new two-version scheme, MySQL introduced a new version of its subscription service that will focus on the enterprise version of the software. The subscription will be available in four tiers, ranging from an annual fee of $595 to $4,995 per database server. The Basic tier comes with minimal services, and the service level agreement for initial response time is two business days. At the other end of the spectrum, the Platinum tier includes a maximum response time of one hour, and includes remote troubleshooting, performance tuning, review of customer code, and custom builds of MySQL as an option.

Mickos says that the monitoring service is a complement to other monitoring services such as Nagios, rather than a replacement for them. According to Mickos, MySQL will be able to suggest changes to the database setup or schema "in some cases with actual syntax," but the final decision to implement the changes will be left to the database administrator.

According to Mickos, the price for the lowest-tier Enterprise subscription is reasonable even for single users of MySQL who power their personal Web site using MySQL. "$595 is all it's going to take.... The price is not more than some people spend in one evening [out on the town]."

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