Volume 8, Number 16 -- April 22, 2008

Enterprise Features Gain Focus as MySQL 5.1 Nears Release

Published: April 22, 2008

by Alex Woodie

The transformation of the MySQL database from open source curiosity to production-level workhorse continued this month with version 5.1, which adds several enterprise-level features. While MySQL 5.1--which is expected to ship before the end of June--has seen good reviews, the open source database's owner, Sun Microsystems, has created controversy over its decision to make a new online backup feature available only to customers who pay for the enterprise version of the software.

With more than 200 million downloads, MySQL is the most popular open source database on the market. The company, which was acquired by Sun in January for $1 billion, has succeeded with the tricky task of developing a database that appeals to hobbyists and small businesses, while also offering some of the higher-end features that large companies need--all while making the core product free.

Last summer, those enterprise roots grew deeper when MySQL and IBM announced MySQL Enterprise for i5/OS, a version of the database designed to run under the i5/OS operating system (which has since been renamed IBM i) on the Power Systems server (formerly System i, i5, iSeries, and AS/400).

That deal also brought technical support from IBM and MySQL, and came with the promise that the platform's native database, DB2/400, would be able to plug-in as one of MySQL's database engines, thereby opening the established database to the new range of next-generation applications written in PHP and other languages that are commonly associated with MySQL. However, since MySQL has been acquired by Sun, the rush to make DB2/400 a MySQL engine appears to have cooled.

MySQL version 5.1, which Sun introduced at the MySQL user conference last week, introduces several enterprise-level enhancements designed to boost performance and provide more flexible data processing.

For starters, support for table and index partitioning will speed query response times by eliminating the need to scan the entire table or index. Similarly, support for row-based replication of database changes (as opposed to replicating the entire SQL statement) brings a performance boost, but at the possible expense of missing some data. In these cases, support for hybrid replication mechanisms allows the programmer to mix and match the different methods according to application needs.

A new event scheduler also debuts with MySQL 5.1 that allows developers and database administrators to automatically schedule common recurring SQL-based tasks to execute on the database server. According to MySQL, it provides deeper support of database-specific tasks than the common CRON task schedulers used in Linux and Unix or the Windows task scheduler.

MySQL also introduced a new database design tool called the MySQL Workbench at the user conference last week. The tool, which works with all versions of MySQL, allows users to model their database, physically create their database, validate and document data, and manage database changes, all from a single console. This product, which was created from the open source DBDesigner4 project, is available in two editions: one that's free and community-supported and one that's professionally supported for $100 per year.

The new database also introduces a new upgrade advisor in the MySQL Enterprise Monitor that automatically monitors the MySQL database for specific bugs and gives users recommendations on how to deal with the problem. This feature is only available to users of MySQL Enterprise Server, which costs between $599 and $4,999 per server per year.

Feature disparity between the free community-supported version and the professionally supported enterprise version has erupted into a major PR problem for Sun last week. The brouhaha started when MySQL executives said new backup and recovery functionality planned for version 6.0 will be available only to MySQL Enterprise Server customers, and not the vast majority of customers who use the free community-supported version.

This has led to accusations that Sun is trying to squeeze its newly acquired (and quite huge) MySQL customer base for more license fees, and that it has lost touch of the ethos of community involvement that made MySQL such a huge success in the first place.

In fact, the decision to "squeeze" the customer base with enterprise features, if it can be called that, was made before Sun acquired MySQL, and the new backup and recovery features are a reflection of a strategic direction MySQL has been executing for some time. MySQL is pondering moving away from the dual licensing strategy with version 6 and instead adopting a commercial open source strategy, similar to SugarCRM and others, where the basic version is available under GPL, but all extra features must be paid for.

However, the sting of criticism and accusations of selling "crippleware" appears to weigh heavily on the shoulders of Sun's MySQL executives, who have said they may change course. Marten Mickos, the former CEO of MySQL who is now a vice president with Sun, attempted to appease the masses with a Slashdot posting. "In 6.0 there will be native backup functionality in the server available for anyone and all (Community, Enterprise) under GPL. Additionally we will develop high-end add-ons (such as encryption, native storage engine-specific drivers) that we will deliver to customers in the MySQL Enterprise product only. We have not yet decided under what license we will release those add-ons (GPL, some other FOSS license, and/or commercial)."

In any event, MySQL 5.1 is scheduled to ship by June for IBM i OS, AIX, Windows, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SuSE Enterprise Linux Server, Solaris, HP-UX, OS X, and Free BSD.


IBM Details MySQL on System i Offering

MySQL Database Getting Closer Ties to the System i

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