MySQL CEO pans software patents, touts open source
- MySQL has become perhaps the most visible player in the open source
database market. With revenues now at $20 million annually, the
company is eyeing a greater enterprise presence with its upcoming
MySQL 5.0 database, which will add features such as triggers to the
product. Marten Mickos, of Finnish descent, is the CEO of the
company, which began in neighboring Sweden. InfoWorld Editor at Large
Paul Krill spoke with Mickos during the MySQL Users Conference 2005
in Santa Clara, Calif., last week, asking Mickos about topics ranging
from MySQL's place in the database market to the volatile issue of
InfoWorld: What are you going to talk about in your keynote speech
Mickos: The big topic of my keynote is "Scale Out," which is a common
denominator for a lot of what we do today in MySQL. So if you look at
some of our most prominent customer references, [Sabre], Cox
Communications, Google, Yahoo, they're all examples of scaling out
and adding capacity to assist them, starting small and then scaling
as the business need grows. So that's the common theme there. With
[MySQL] 5.0 it's easier to do that with the new tools we have, with
the services we have. It's easier to build a modern architecture
where you can put many servers next to each other to take whatever
load you have, a Web load or transactional load or a data-warehousing
InfoWorld: When is MySQL 5.0 coming out?
Mickos: We have a schedule to have it generally available by the end
of June, but we also have said that quality is the No. 1 priority. So
it's the same answer I gave you, what was it, two weeks ago?
InfoWorld: So it might not be out in June?
Mickos: We'll see. We are working very hard to get it out there, but
the No. 1 priority is quality. So we have no reason to believe it
wouldn't be ready then. The firm promise is about quality, not about
the exact date.
InfoWorld: It was supposed to be out late last year, wasn't it?
Mickos: A long time ago we thought so, yes.
InfoWorld: What happened there?
Mickos: We were just not good at estimating times. Last year in June
we hired a vice president of engineering who is now in charge of it,
but since then we've had good predictability.
InfoWorld: How important is MySQL 5.0?
Mickos: I think it's very important in getting into new businesses,
[reaching] enterprise corporate users. It has features that they will
appreciate: stored procedures, triggers, views, and XA [extended
architecture] support as well.
InfoWorld: What is your take on the whole software-patent issue?
Mickos: Software patents are detrimental to the entire software
Mickos: Because they restrict innovation and they don't protect the
innovator like they should. So it's just a mistake to believe that
patents, because they are good for hardware, would be good for
InfoWorld: So you would recommend eliminating them for software?
InfoWorld: Who do you see as your bigger competitor? Oracle or
Postgres [now officially called PostgreSQL] or Microsoft or someone
Mickos: Well, in the business setting we never see Postgres. And in
the business setting more than half of our business is with new
applications, new customers, and so they start from scratch. And in
those where there is competition, it is Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and
InfoWorld: Isn't Postgres comparable to MySQL?
Mickos: No. First of all, [Postgres is] not a commercial enterprise.
In terms of a business model they are completely different. In terms
of software style and architecture they are different. Like I've said
before, our three priorities are performance, reliability, ease of
use. Features [are] not a specific priority for us. And that's where
we stand out from all other databases.
InfoWorld: Features are not a specific priority?
Mickos: No. Features are needed, don't [get] me wrong, but the
priority is performance, and that's the No. 1. And if you listened to
the keynote [by MySQL founders Monty Widenius and David Axmark] this
morning, they spoke very much about how it is important to them that
the software is fast, bugs are fixed, and it's easy to use.
InfoWorld: How long [has the] MySQL database been available?
Mickos: Ten years.
InfoWorld: Is there as much money to be made in open source as there
is in commercial software? I just don't see how you can do it if
you're giving away the license.
Mickos: That's the big question that everybody's asking. But our
revenues are growing much faster than our installed base.
InfoWorld: What are your revenues?
Mickos: Last year we made $20 million U.S. [in gross revenues].
InfoWorld: That's a good number, but when you look at revenues of
someone such as Microsoft or IBM or Sun, it doesn't seem like all
Mickos: It was $1 million four years ago, and now it's $20 million.
So yes, I agree, it's not a big company yet, but in terms of speed of
growth there's no database company that grows this fast.
InfoWorld: You've put out the MySQL Migration Suite today. What are
you looking for from that?
Mickos: That's for migrating people who would like to get off other
databases: Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, Sybase. They can use the tool to
easily get onto MySQL.
InfoWorld: For what reasons would they want to move?
Mickos: First of all, they want to move just to test it out, so they
do a conditional migration. They migrate, but they leave the old
[database] intact. And then if they're happy with the outcome, then
they will do the final migration. And they do it to gain performance,
to save costs, and to streamline.
InfoWorld: How does your dual-licensing model work?
Mickos: We have the dual licensing for those who distribute our
software, but for end-users we changed the model in February. So we
sell MySQL Network, which is a subscription model. So if you are an
end-user, a Web property, or a corporation, you just buy MySQL
Network and you tell us for how many years, how many servers, on what
service level, and then you're done. [MySQL Network includes]
certified binaries, updates and alerts, a knowledge base, technical
support. It also has warranties and [indemnification].
InfoWorld: But not specifically license fees?
Mickos: No, there are no license fees.
InfoWorld: Why did you change to this model?
Mickos: Because customers told us they wanted it that way. They
said, "We don't want to see any license fees anymore, we want the
pricing to be simple, we want it to be a low entry point."
InfoWorld: So you have MySQL, it's a new kind of company, and then
you have these giants that have been around for years with billions
of dollars of revenue, Oracle and IBM. Do you really think you can
take them on, or are you going to have your niche and they're going
to have theirs?
Mickos: Well, I see it as the Ikea model, where we do simplistic
Scandinavian design, we sell it to those who need new furniture, but
there will always be a market for antique furniture. And people will
always pay high prices for them. So I don't think we are taking away
the business from the old guys. It's just that all the new business
InfoWorld: Where do you see the company five years from now?
Mickos: We are still a small player and the database business is
huge. In five years I hope we'll be a very big company.
InfoWorld: Do you think MySQL represents the commoditization of
Mickos: Yes, I do. I think it will happen anyhow. I think we were the
first ones to see it. That's why we got the benefits. But I think
it's happening with or without us. So it's not us driving it, it's us
making good use of it.
InfoWorld: So what does that mean for somebody like Oracle? That
billion-dollar quarters are over?
Mickos: The days of business that they never deserved [are] over, but
they will have the business. There are [parts] of business where
Oracle is the perfect choice and Oracle is a fantastic product,
there's no question about it.
InfoWorld: What business didn't they deserve?
Mickos: Well, there were companies who said, "We are an Oracle shop,
we'll always use Oracle irrespective of the need." And that's wrong,
that's wrong thinking. And now there are companies who are
saying, "No, we will use Oracle where Oracle is best, we'll use MySQL
where MySQL is best."
InfoWorld: How do you see this whole open source battle playing out?
Where does Microsoft fit in?
Mickos: I think open source as a phenomenon is already so strong that
nobody will be able to fight it any longer. I don't think Microsoft
will ultimately fight it. And as proof of that they already have open
source software. They have open sourced a component you can use for
Windows installation scripts. And we use it in MySQL. But the
question of who will make the most money out of open source, that's
an interesting question. And I actually think the most money today is
made by those who build services on top of open source. So look at
Yahoo, Google, Amazon, eBay, Salesforce.com. Right now all of them
are using open source in their infrastructure and becoming very
profitable when they sell [software] as a Web service.
InfoWorld: Do you think that corporations have gotten to the point
now where instead of looking at open source as too much of a fly-by-
night deal, they're now asking if they can get something free via
Mickos: Yes, they do, of course, and they come to us and say, "We
love your product but we don't want to pay anything."
InfoWorld: And what do you tell them?
Mickos: We say, sure, but if you need any services, then you have to
pay for them.
InfoWorld: How many people are using the software where you're not
getting a dime from them?
Mickos: It's about one paying customer for 1,000 free users.
InfoWorld: One paying customer for 1,000 free users?
InfoWorld: What's the size of your user base including the free
Mickos: Six million.
InfoWorld: That just seems like a large percentage of people getting
the software for nothing.
Mickos: Yes, but on the other hand, look at us in the database
market. We are already a significant player and we are taken
seriously by everybody. And what have we invested [to get to that
position]? Nothing. How much has other database companies invested in
hard money to get to that position? They have invested much more than
we have left on the table in terms of giving it away free.
InfoWorld: A couple weeks ago you talked about the LAMP [ Linux,
Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python] stack. Do you think that is a serious
competitor to Java and .Net?
Mickos: I think most companies will have multiple stacks in
infrastructure, but definitely LAMP is now rising as one of the Big
Three stacks. .Net, J2EE, and LAMP are the Big Three.
InfoWorld: What's the appeal of LAMP?
Mickos: It is self-organizing, extensible, [and] scales horizontally.
Paul Krill , San Francisco (InfoWorld)