Sun, Oracle, WordPress, and MySQL

It’s magically beautiful outside in San Francisco today, but instead everyone is talking about the $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle. (More on Techmeme.) A number of people have contacted me with questions to the effect of “Oracle is evil, they now own MySQL, WordPress runs on MySQL, OMG! What’s next?” In addition to the millions of WordPress blogs all using MySQL, all of the projects Automattic contributes to are MySQL-based and we run more than 250 servers dedicated to MySQL.

Last Thursday at The Next Web I talked about how we need an Internet Bill of Rights to protect our data and the countless hours we pour into complex online services, such as Facebook and Last.fm, and that the foundations for this were laid down 20 years ago by Richard Stallman and the GPL.

Today our servers are running various versions of MySQL, tomorrow they’ll be running the same thing, and if need be ten years from now they can run the exact some software. Because of the GPL every WordPress user in the world is protected — we’re not beholden to any one company, only to what works best for us. Today that’s MySQL, tomorrow that’s MySQL, a year from now we’ll see.

Most importantly whatever happens will happen on our timeline. That’s the definition of Freedom.

Here are few other reasons not to be worried, and a bonus at the end.

  1. Oracle bought Innobase, makers of the InnoDB engine that most large users deploy as their main storage engine, in October 2005. The sky has not yet fallen.
  2. As a company Automattic has never really needed the support services that MySQL provides and even if we did there are plenty of third parties also providing support.
  3. Most of the useful updates for MySQL have been coming from outside, to quote Jeremy Zawodny:

    The single most interesting and surprising thing to me is both the number and necessity of third-party patches for enhancing various aspects of MySQL and InnoDB. Companies like Percona, Google, Proven Scaling, Prime Base Technologies, and Open Query are all doing so in one way or another.

    On the one hand, it’s excellent validation of the Open Source model. Thanks to reasonable licensing, companies other than Sun/MySQL are able to enhance and fix the software and give their changes back to the world.

  4. In terms of innovation, the most interesting developments have been from outside as well, in projects like Drizzle. (I would not be surprised if this moment is for Drizzle what Movable Type changing their licensing was for WordPress, even though in this case they’re both Open Source.)
  5. I’ve met a number of people at Sun who are incredibly smart, and if they stick around I expect cool things to continue to come out.
  6. There are some new developments in the WordPress world, namely that I think it would be possible to add support for databases other than MySQL without changing every $wpdb call or breaking any plugins or themes. It won’t be easy, but the coolest stuff seldom is.

Anyway, I now really wish I had agreed to keynote at the MySQL User Conference starting today. :)

67 thoughts on “Sun, Oracle, WordPress, and MySQL

  1. Thanks for the reassurance that MySQL will be around and free! I was worried.

    I’m also worried about Java, which is used extensively in many WordPress themes. Do you have any thoughts on that?

    1. I don’t understand how Matt has reassured that MySQL will be around and free.

      Matt doesn’t own MySQL/Sun/Oracle, so there’s no guarantee that they will be free.

      Not saying it won’t either.

  2. hasn’t Oracle owned the underlying MySQL drivers for a long time anyway? I used to work for Oracle as an intern and am now back at University – they are a great company to work for filled with friendly people, seriously.

  3. When I first saw the news that Oracle was acquiring Sun Microsystems I was a little concerned for the future of MySQL, but then I remembered that it’s open source.

    Now I think it might be the best thing that could happen for the MySQL community. I seriously doubt that Oracle will close-source future releases of MySQL server (I’m not even sure they could if they wanted to), but I’m hoping they will add some of the features that make their Oracle DBMS so great. At least they hopefully put an end to the stagnation of in-house development since MySQL was acquired by Sun.

    1. Just a note: From a computer scientist’s point of view, Oracle is not great at all. MySQL is neither, but at least it’s not such a non-transparent behemoth.

  4. Well written article Matt, and always good to hear reassurance – even though it hadn’t really struck me as a worry until you highlighted that other people were worried!

  5. Can’t say I’m too concerned about the deal’s prospects for MySQL either.

    By trade, I am a PeopleSoft BA/developer during the day — Oracle’s acquisition of that popular software suite hasn’t diminished its popularity amongst the customers still using it.

    Part of that had to do with Oracle announcing 10 years of support per release. That stemmed from the high number of companies that had already sunk millions into their investment. I’d imagine there are a higher number of online ventures that have done the same with MySQL, and Oracle shouldn’t have any interest in tarnishing any of these new customer relationships they just bought.

    Therefore, I agree with Matt — things are likely fine. For now.

  6. Hi Matt, thank you for an insightful post. Oracle also acquired Berkeley DB in 2006, which as far as I know is still open source and used extensively by the likes of Google etc. I think Oracle do realize the value of open source much more than other companies making proprietary software so I think MySQL can only stand to benefit from this.

  7. When I first saw the news that Oracle was acquiring Sun Microsystems I was a little concerned for the future of MySQL, but then I remembered that MySQL releases have been sucking wind since it was acquired by Sun anyway.

  8. In the cases of Innobase and PeopleSoft, did Oracle have a competing product of their own? It seems like MySQL is somewhat of a different case, because it’s potentially taken a lot of wind from the sails of Oracle’s flagship database products.

    1. PeopleSoft’s competitors within Oracle were (and are) Oracle e-Business Suite and Oracle Fusion, the latter of which was the original serious competitor but has now simmered into more of a middleware product.

      When Oracle acquired PeopleSoft, it was to corner that portion of the ERP market and compete with SAP. Also, to “buy” new customers (i.e. current users) along with it.

  9. Thanks for your thoughts Matt. MySQL has let millions of people like me to have low cost solutions for a lot of things on the web.

  10. Mr Ellison has a business to run, and if he can see benefits in keeping MySQL and supporting it, he will do that (benefits can be econmical as well as reputational).

    If not, well, it’s just a matter of a company like Automattic to fork MySQL and hire the most clever MySQL developers, and start a new era for MySQL++ … *that’s* the beauty of Open Source ;-)

  11. The smartest move for Oracle would be to keep MySQL the way it is and make it a snap for people to upgrade to Oracle. If Oracle plays their cards right, perhaps WordPress will be running on Oracle itself in a few years. (Which might be an awesome upgrade for WordPress as well.)

    Right now it’s still wishful thinking, but it would also be the smartest thing for Oracle to do.

    -Erica

    1. Speaking as a BA at a large Oracle shop, someday offering the option to run WP on Oracle would assist with its adoption. My company’s IT team doesn’t support anything they cannot license — for example, I am currently porting a LAMP app to .NET/SQL Server because of the need to have it done with supported toolsets.

  12. if anything the beauty of MySQL is the simplicity. Running Oracle might be an overkill for anyone other than those that have visitors that sit in the millions – the A grade bloggers maybe.

  13. Thanks for the post. We appreciate it as we have had a number of concern. Clearly, if something does happen, it will not overnight and I am sure users will have time to adapt as appropriate.

  14. Matt- Frankly, I was very surprised by the negative tweets yesterday from many in the tech field about the deal. While I agree that the cultures are different and that could cause a problem, I really saw this as a great strategic move on Oracle’s part and had little to no concern about SQL issues. Very glad that you’ve taken the time to calm the community.

  15. I’m actually glad to hear the news.
    All the time I spent into OpenSolaris and MySQL isn`t for nothing.
    On the other hand, I`m also worried about the feature of MySQL.
    Maybe it`s time to start switching to PostgreSQL?

  16. Although it’s pretty logical to state ‘MySQL will be around..’ – it is open source after all – good post, summing up some of the key points. Something interesting to reflect on is that had Microsoft bought MySQL there would have been a lot more ‘mainstream’ fuss made.. :)

  17. The buy is a little scary. However, I like the idea of WordPress porting to a couple other DB’s is great (Postgres?). I’ve seen other software that does that. Seems feasible.

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  19. “I would not be surprised if this moment is for Drizzle what Movable Type changing their licensing was for WordPress, even though in this case they’re both Open Source.)”

    You never miss a beat do you Matt? :)

    Do you really think that this deal has the honest to god potential to be a watershed moment for Drizzle? How have the economics for MySQL users changed? In what ways has this change in ownership really changed anything about how the source is governed and distributed? How conscious were people of the fact that MySQL was purchased by Sun in the first place (outside of the Valley that is)? And if *that* change in ownership didn’t adversely affect MySQL users, why on earth would this one?

  20. WordPress supporting other db’s would be cool! Always willing to help for it.

    ps: maybe Oracle bought Sun because Sun bought MySQL enabling Sun to provide full packages of software(app server/db… and hardware; 2 fisherman fishing in the same pool.
    Now it’s one big ship fishing in that pool.. easier to throw some things overboard and stack other stuff in the same container?

  21. Oracle has been acquiring underlying tech that is important to mySQL for a while now. The fact that that hasn’t lead tobad things yet doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. Actually, arguably, the acquisition of Innodb did have a negative impact on the project, because it created momentum for an alternative (falcon?) which drew resources for defensive development that could have gone to advancing mySQL.

    It seems to me that there is very little Oracle could that makes much difference for open source projects and web services built on open source that are happy using mySQL now. They could screw the codebase up, but that would just lend momentum to fork.

    What they can do is slow mySQL down. They can divert their internal resources away from development and maintenence. They can make licensing for use in closed source products more expensive, which might drive away some 3rd party vendors and users, reducing the pool of potential competitors. The uncertainty they are already causing can cause new and existing open source projects to question their commitment and lea to them supporting something like Postgres instead of or in addition to mySQL. This ends up diluting the mySQL community.

    It is hard not to imagine that this willbe good for Postgres (even though I think there are still some Postgres devs on Sun’s payroll). It’s also good for drizzle, and anyone for whom the Drizzles roadmap is more attractive than muSQL’s.

    This certainly gives Oracle more influence over a disruptor that is probably eating up into their DB business from the low end and it allows them to draw revenue from people who wouldn’t otherwise be Oracle customers (or not for long) without seriously threatening pricepoints on Oracle “classic”

    I think though that the acqusition is aS much about keeping Sun’s customer base out of the hands of anyone who has a real competitor to Oracle’s DB and enterprise apps.

    1. What I don’t quite ‘get’ about Oracle and MySQL is just why Oracle wants/needs MySQL. I’m not familiar with MySQL related financials however how does Oracle intend to make a financial profit from MySQL? or does MySQL offer some strategic advantage? Or, as you mention, EAS, is this a competitive strategy being employed by Oracle?

  22. Perhaps this development makes the copyright situation on MySQL documentation a bit more of an issue. MySQL code is GPL, but the documentation is copyright.

    MySQL 5.4 Feature Summary

    “Copyright 2009 Sun Microsystems, Inc.

    This documentation is NOT distributed under a GPL license. Use of this documentation is subject to the following terms: You may create a printed copy of this documentation solely for your own personal use …”

  23. It certainly would be a good idea to separate out the DB access enough that people can easily add their own layer to handle the operations. Actually I wouldn’t mind using a flat-file backend if possible. But the API for the DB queries still needs to be there.

  24. As Oracle DBA I’m not concerned at all. I know Oracle database even better then mysql.
    I can give you two more reasons for reassurance:
    1. Oracle Exadata: they now have the hardware too. Together with a very optimized Oracle software you get Oracle exadata
    2. As Oracle uses very much Java … well they now have it.

    And Java was the main reason to take over Sun. So don’t worry about mysql.

  25. Maybe a bit off-topic, but I’d like to comment:
    I don’t understand Frans’s comment about Oracle Exadata. I wonder how many people want to run WordPress on an Exadata environment. It’s a bit over the Top I think and Oracle’s licenses would cause your bankruptcy.
    Oracle XE would be a great database to run WP. It’s free (non-commercial), tunable and understandable for every Oracle DBA (like me ;-)). However, developing WP (or a plugin) requires good knowledge of PL/SQL and datamodelling . Without that, don’t even let it cross your mind.
    Like many other WP users, I suffer from lack of performance. The causes for that is mainly NOT MySQL, but poorly written sql and datamodels. For example, statpress is a great plugin, but the column-datatypes are to cry your eyes out. So, when you create a plugin, performance must not be underestimated.
    OK, enough whining. Great plugin. Just love it.
    Merry Christmas!

  26. I’ve been reading a bit lately about large sites (Facebook, Digg) switching to Cassandra. Any more thoughts or info on WordPress being able to use other DB’s?

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