The ex-MySQL gang is back together, pushing MariaDB as a neutral ‘bridge’

Bad news for Oracle(s orcl), maybe: some of the key pre-Sun-takeover MySQL players are back together, and their MariaDB fork of MySQL looks like it’s gaining serious traction.

The reunion comes courtesy of a merger between open source database services firm SkySQL (which supports both MySQL and MariaDB deployments for customers ranging from Harvard to Shutterstock) and a company called Monty Program — yes, as in Monty Widenius, who named MySQL after his oldest daughter My and its fork after his younger daughter, Maria.

So now we have Widenius and other ex-MySQLers such as Colin Charles back together with players such as MySQL co-founder David Axmark and former MySQL sales director Magnus Stenberg. Actually, that’s underselling the magnitude of what’s happened here: out of the 70 employees of the fused operation (which is continuing under the SkySQL name), 50 used to be at the original MySQL firm.

Open appeal

At the same time, MariaDB seems to be capitalizing on the disillusionment of some in the open source community with Oracle’s stewardship of MySQL — doing things like releasing extensions for the commercial version but not the free version was never going to win favor in that scene. Wikipedia migrated to MariaDB in the last few days, and the Fedora and OpenSUSE Linux distros will both make the jump in their next releases.

The MariaDB Foundation, which is busy sorting out its governance structure and which now claims SkySQL as an early member, also took on former Sun Chief Open Source Officer Simon Phipps as its CEO a week ago.

“It is a pleasure to have a company representing the reunited core team of our code base joining the Foundation at its inception,” Phipps said in a statement this week.

MariaDB the “bridge”

The fused team has a unique NewSQL proposition: not only is MariaDB fully compatible with MySQL, but it can also interface with newer NoSQL databases such as Cassandra and LevelDB. According to SkySQL CEO Patrik Sallner, SkySQL will continue to service both MySQL and MariaDB customers and won’t be forcing anyone to jump to MariaDB — but he expects many customers to make that leap nonetheless:

“Right now, because MySQL belongs to Oracle, it’s not necessarily perceived as independent. Linux is the default operating system in most enterprise contexts. Oracle, IBM(s ibm) and Microsoft control the vast majority of business in databases and most companies have at least two of these, which are not compatible with each other. And, as companies deploy new applications, they use new [NoSQL] database technologies to meet their needs.

“We believe that MariaDB has an opportunity to become a truly independent and interoperable open source database, meaning we can provide a solution that’s a neutral ground for companies. … Our aspiration is to start building this into a new form of database platform that ties together other databases in a seamless manner. By providing a bridge, we believe we can create more innovation.”

Sallner noted that there isn’t currently a great deal of difference between MySQL and MariaDB, apart from the latter’s “pluggable” approach to storage engines. “Using the SQL language allows us to be compatible with other databases, and we have a connect engine which allows us to add on-the-fly support for other data formats,” he said.

As a next step, Sallner said he hoped to see other database providers join the MariaDB Foundation, in order to maintain this open common ground. “We’re not competing against DB2 or Oracle or Microsoft today — we’re all serving different needs,” he said. So does he want to sign up Oracle itself? “That’ll be a stretch, but it would be a huge sign of success,” he laughed.

It’s not all bonhomie, though — Sallner reckons large internet companies will engage with MariaDB in a way that they haven’t with Oracle’s MySQL.

“We believe those companies are willing to contribute the work they’ve done back to MariaDB,” he said. “Facebook(s fb) and Twitter have contributed substantial new features to MariaDB. They probably wouldn’t have contributed that to Oracle.”

UPDATE (10.55am PT): This piece originally and incorrectly stated that Widenius is the new SkySQL CTO, whereas he is in fact the CTO of the MariaDB Foundation. Widenius is on the board of SkySQL, but his role is non-operational.