Facebook — with help from Google, LinkedIn, Twitter — releases MySQL built to scale

Facebook announced on Thursday a new open source project called WebScaleSQL. The technology — a branch of the incredibly popular MySQL database — already includes contributions from Google, LinkedIn and Twitter, and Facebook promises the WebScaleSQL community will accept contributors from anyone with experience operating MySQL beyond its natural limits.

Facebook’s mastery of MySQL has been a point of pride within the company even as skeptics questioned the wisdom of sticking with the database. The last time I checked in, for a tech talk the company’s engineers gave in late 2011 (when Facebook was at a mere 800 million users), its MySQL environment was growing like crazy. Engineers talked about 60 million queries and 4 million row changes per second, and about rapidly multiplying data volumes. They also touched on the importance of flash storage, something the company has really picked up on during the ensuing couple of years.

WebScaleSQL incorporates some of these learnings, as well as those from the other contributing companies. The project will keep up to date with the current production-ready MySQL release (right now, that’s MySQL 5.6) and is designed to move fast. In a blog post introducing the project, Facebook software manager Steaphan Greene details some of the specific improvements in the initial WebScaleSQL release, as well as those Facebook intends to add in the near future.

Beyond the potential utility of another good open source technology, the introduction of WebScaleSQL might help put to rest any lingering claims that NoSQL databases are the only option for applications that need scalability and performance. New SQL technologies have tackled those challenges and picked up a lot of momentum in the process; the availability of a scalable, open source, MySQL branch is just another step further. Now, the choice over which database to use — even within companies such as Facebook, which runs multiple NoSQL databases — is often focused around use cases rather than sheer scale.

WebScaleSQL isn’t the only for bringing scalable MySQL to the masses of web startups, though. In February, Facebook MySQL leader Mark Callaghan wrote a blog post proposing a mentorship program for startup database architects to learn the guts of MySQL so they can grow their environments themselves rather than trying to hire experts in a super-competitive field. In 2012, Twitter open sourced its MySQL code base.

Now more than ever, being able to scale a database — any database — in a hurry is critical. Mobile and web applications can attract millions of users over the course of weeks, in some cases, and they need databases that can handle all that user data and all those requests. Going viral is great — unless, of course, it crashes your system.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user Semisatch.