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Oracle Innobase Purchase Impacts MySQL

Jeremy D. Zawodny
Expert Author
Published: 2005-10-08

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As reported in several sources Oracle has acquired Innobase Oy for an undisclosed sum of money.

(Slashdot, InfoWorld, AP on Yahoo, Reuters)

This appears to be a strategic move by Oracle to put MySQL between a rock and hard place.

Innobase is the company that provides the underlying code for the InnoDB storage engine in MySQL. It's the de-facto choice for developers who need high concurrency, row-level locking, and transactions in MySQL. For many years now, MySQL AB and Innobase Oy (founded by Heikki Tuuri) have worked closely together to make that technology a seamless part of MySQL.

Like all of the MySQL code, InnoDB is dual licensed. That means you can freely use it under the GPL or buy a license for it if your usage would violate the GPL.

MySQL's public reaction right now isn't the "holy f$@%ing shit!" that likely occurred internally. Kaj Arno, MySQL's VP of Community Relations, sent out a message to many MySQL users today titled " MySQL AB Welcomes Oracle to the FOSS Database Market".

The message began by saying:

MySQL AB and the Free / Open Source database market today received some unexpected recognition by Oracle, through their acquisition of Innobase Oy.

So what does this have to do with MySQL?

Well, Innobase is the provider of the popular InnoDB Storage Engine in MySQL. One of the things our users appreciate about MySQL is its unique pluggable storage engine architecture. You have the flexibility to choose from number of storage engines including MyISAM, Memory, Merge, Cluster and InnoDB. And with MySQL 5.0, we added the new Archive and Federated storage engines.

Just like the rest of MySQL Server and its Storage Engines, InnoDB is released under the GPL. With this license, our users have complete freedom to use, develop, modify the code base as they wish. That is why MySQL has chose the GPL: to protect the freedom that users value in free / open source software.

Later on, Kaj makes an effort to calm the fears of MySQL users by saing that MySQL will continue to support all their users and work with Oracle as a "normal business partner."

The big elephant in the room, however, the uncertainty around Oracle's future plans for the InnoDB source code. Their press release says:

Innobase is an innovative small company that develops open source database technology. Oracle intends to continue developing the InnoDB technology and expand our commitment to open source software. Oracle has already developed and contributed an open source clustered file system to Linux. We expect to make additional contributions in the future.

As well as:

InnoDB is not a standalone database product: it is distributed as a part of the MySQL database. InnoDB's contractual relationship with MySQL comes up for renewal next year. Oracle fully expects to negotiate an extension of that relationship.

I expect those negotiations could be quite interesting. Maybe not next year, but the year after? Oracle could decide to put the squeeze on MySQL someday in a way that hurts their customers but not "the community" (those using the GPL version).

MySQL is now faced with the prospect of licensing technology they cannot ship without from their biggest rival. Interestingly, there's always been once piece of the InnoDB puzzle that's not available under the GPL: the InnoDB Hot Backup Tool. Without it, database administrators cannot backup their InnoDB tables without shutting down MySQL or at least locking out all transactions.

Oracle just bought themselves a whole lot of leverage with MySQL AB and a talented team of database engineers to boot.

I've always wondered why MySQL AB didn't buy Innobase Oy years ago. It always made complete sense from where I sat. But I'm hardly an insider when it comes to the relationship between those companies. Needless to say, that relationship just got far more "interesting."

I hope, for the sake of the community and the company (I've known many MySQL employees for years), that Oracle is true to their promises. But it is Oracle, so I'm naturally skeptical.

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About the Author:
Jeremy Zawodny is the author of the popular Jeremy Zawodny's blog. Jeremy is part of the Yahoo search team and frequently posts in the Yahoo! Search blog as well.

Visit Jeremy's blog: Jeremy Zawodny's blog.

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