Sun unveils MySQL update as Oracle deal looms

MySQL 5.4 adds scalability improvements to the open source database

Sun Microsystems on Tuesday unveiled an early look at MySQL 5.4, the next version of its open source database, one day after Oracle said it is buying Sun for $7.4 billion.

The main focus of MySQL 5.4 is improved performance and scalability. The InnoDB storage engine commonly used with MySQL -- and which is owned by Oracle -- can now address up to eight CPUs, twice as much as before.

[ For the full rundown on the Oracle-Sun deal, see InfoWorld's special report | See also: Oracle wins 'Acquirer of the Year' award at MySQL Conference ]

Sun testers have seen "very dramatic" performance gains when moving from four to eight cores, said Robin Schumacher, head of MySQL product management, in an interview prior to Oracle's announcement.

Other improvements in MySQL 5.4 will include subquery optimizations for faster analytic queries and better stored procedure support.

The gains are "transparent," meaning users don't have to do any additional coding to use them, Schumacher said.

But the preview release available for download today will only contain the CPU scalability enhancements, which are limited to 64-bit Linux and Solaris systems, he said. MySQL 5.4 should be generally available by the end of this year, according to Schumacher.

Also Tuesday, Sun announced MySQL Cluster 7.0, a new version of its clustering software for MySQL. One major improvement is the ability to add more nodes to a cluster while it is running. The release, which will be generally available this quarter, also has faster throughput, quicker file access, and support for Windows development.

But now that Oracle is buying Sun, MySQL's future product direction is unclear, even though it is not generally considered a head-to-head competitor with Oracle's database.

A Sun spokeswoman said Tuesday that it is "business as usual" while the deal closes, and declined to comment on its implications for MySQL.

But no matter what happens to Sun, MySQL will survive due to its success as an open source project, said Karen Tegan Padir, vice president of the MySQL and software infrastructure group at Sun, in an interview last week.

"When there's so many people involved in developing and producing the code, it transcends the company," Padir said.

Indeed, the MySQL codebase has already been forked and branched off for a number of projects, such as Drizzle and MariaDB, which is backed by MySQL creator Michael "Monty" Widenius.

Oracle could "kill" MySQL "either directly or by not developing/supporting it fully," sell it off to avoid antitrust issues, or "embrace MySQL and open source and put their technical expertise on it to ensure that MySQL continues to be the most popular advanced open source database," Widenius said in a blog post Tuesday.

But Widenius, who quit Sun earlier this year, added that many other MySQL team members may leave the company post-acquisition.

"The biggest threat to MySQL['s] future is not Oracle per se, but that the MySQL talent at Sun will spread like the wind and go to a lot of different companies which will set the MySQL development and support back years," he wrote. Widenius is "prepared to hire or find a good home for all core MySQL personnel" at his company, Monty Program, or "close to it."

At the same time, Widenius said he wants to work closely with Oracle or a future buyer of MySQL to make sure a free branch is always available to "actively develop in an open manner."

Meanwhile, Oracle is most likely going to continue marketing MySQL, according to other observers.

MySQL "is a leading product in a family of inexpensive DBMSes which take revenue that would otherwise go to Oracle," said Curt Monash, founder of Monash Research. Therefore, it makes more sense for Oracle to have a stake in that business, "rather than hurt a strong player and have others take its place."

Oracle will probably fashion a product family around MySQL "with the easiest possible upward mobility" to its higher-end database, he said.

And Forrester Research analyst James Kobielus suggested in a blog post that Oracle may develop a MySQL-based data warehousing appliance.

By doing so, Oracle "can gain a differentiator that Teradata, IBM, Microsoft, Sybase, and Netezza lack (you have to go to a startup such as Dataupia for multi-DBMS choice on an appliance)," he wrote. "Many information managers prefer to stick with their existing DBMSs when building a DW, and prefer to implement that DW on an appliance to take advantage of its out-of-box balanced configuration of CPU, memory, storage, and I/O."

For its part, Oracle says it plans to "protect, extend and enhance customers' investments after closing."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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