MySQL Adds Scalability to Open Source Database

Offers significant scalability improvements; release expected before end of year

A day after Oracle announced plans to acquire Sun Microsystems for $7.4 billion, MySQL, one of Sun's own recent acquisitions, unveiled the next version of its popular open source database.

MySQL 5.4, which the company said will offer significant scalability improvements among several new features, was unveiled at this week's seventh annual MySQL Conference & Expo in Santa Clara, Calif. The new version is set for release by year's end (a preview version is available for download here) and is designed to enable the database's storage engine, InnoDB, to scale up to 16-way x86 servers and 64-way CMT servers. Version 5.4 also comes with JOIN enhancements and new subquery optimizations. The result, the company said, is 90 percent better response times in certain situations.

"I know it was a long time in coming," said Karen Tegan Padir, newly installed vice president of Sun's MySQL and Software Infrastructure Group, in the conference's opening keynote address. "But it was worth the wait."

Padir said the long-anticipated MySQL upgrade "will transparently increase the performance and scalability of your applications to enable them to scale under more demanding user and data processing loads" without any modifications to existing applications. She added that MySQL 5.4 is better suited for scale-up deployments on SMP systems.

Padir reassured the standing-room-only crowd that MySQL, which was acquired just a year ago by Sun for $1 billion, would be safe in Oracle's hands. "I will continue to be a champion for open source no matter who the owner of MySQL is," she said. "MySQL's ubiquity absolutely transcends whoever is the steward of that technology." Padir cited some numbers to support that claim to ubiquity, saying that MySQL now has more than 12 million users of the database, more than 70,000 downloads per day and more than 1,000 partners in the MySQL ecosystem.

MySQL might even fare better at Oracle than it has at Sun, said Jonathan Eunice, principal IT advisor at Illuminata. "People who have been hoping that Sun would steer MySQL in the right direction were very disappointed," Eunice said.

As a database company, Oracle is actually better-suited to support MySQL, Eunice said, though he wonders how the company will deal with MySQL's evolution from lightweight database to enterprise database. "I doubt that Oracle will allow it to become an enterprise database," he said.

Under Sun's stewardship, MySQL had forked into several projects, including Drizzle, a fork of MySQL 6.0, and MariaDB, a fork of the database that uses the Maria transactional storage engine. MySQL creator Michael "Monty" Widenius is one of the creators of MariaDB.

Forking is the sign of a robust developer community, argued Kaj Arnö, vice president of community relations in Sun's MySQL group. Arnö has been with MySQL since 2001, making this his second acquisition.

"I have a phrase that I used to use last year: 'I cannot speak for Sun, because I am a MySQLer,'" he said during a post-keynote interview. "Now I have to do the same thing: I cannot speak for Oracle, but I will say that there are some things that an acquisition will not change. One is that MySQL has a huge user base. Another is that, though the founders and CEO are no longer with us, we have inside Sun some of the best MySQL experts. But most importantly, what has not changed is the license for MySQL. If you don't trust us, trust the GPL."

The GNU General Public License (GPL), the most commonly used open source license, employs the "copyleft" principle, which requires derivative works of GPL-licensed programs to be licensed under the GPL. The Linux operating system is a GPL-licensed product.

Forrester analyst Noel Yuhanna agreed that MySQL has languished at Sun. Speaking prior to the Oracle acquisition announcement, Yuhanna said Sun was not gaining traction with MySQL. "Even after a year, MySQL has still not made strong inroads into large enterprises and has not put any major pressure on Oracle, IBM or Microsoft," Yuhanna said. "It continues to focus on small to moderate-sized companies and apps like e-commerce and Web services which MySQL has done for years. There is no clear strategy on large-scale database deployment or a migration strategy from closed source databases to MySQL."

Yuhanna also lamented the departure from Sun of former MySQL executives Marten Mickos, David Axmark and Widenius. "Marten and Monty have definitely been the force behind MySQL's growth and adoption over the years and without them there is likely to be some setback at least for the short term," he said. "I believe Marten and Monty did not get their way at Sun -- the freedom and execution style that they had before the acquisition. This was clearly visible from the quality of MySQL, which declined -- as seen by Monty's blog -- and delays in minor releases and integration."

MySQL users had begun complaining last year to Forrester, Yuhanna said, about the lack of major product enhancement, especially around performance, scalability and security, which the 5.4 version largely addresses.

The list of new features and fixes in MySQL 5.4 also includes new query algorithms that use main memory to improve multi-way joins' execution times; stored procedures that improve error management via SIGNAL/RESIGNAL; better information schema and prepared statements; and expanded support for Sun's DTrace, Sun's dynamic tracing framework in the Solaris operating system.

The MySQL group also announced a new release of its high-availability database software, MySQL Cluster 7.0. This release also emphasizes performance and scalability enhancements, but also adds support for popular LDAP directories and simplified cluster backup and maintenance features. MySQL Cluster 7.0 is available now for download here.

Organizers of the MySQL Conference & Expo have traditionally presented awards during the opening keynote. This year, Padir added an ironic twist to that tradition by presenting Oracle Vice President Ken Jacobs, also known among Oracle's database administrators as "Dr. DBA," the "Acquirer of the Year" award. The joke drew laughter and applause from the crowd.

Meanwhile, at the annual RSA Conference under way this week in San Francisco, Sun announced plans to expand the interoperability between its identity management suite and the MySQL database. Sun ID technology will enable developers to create "more dynamic identity architectures" made up of directory services and relational databases. The result, the company said, is better performance and simplified management of large-scale applications.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at

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