Competitors battle Oracle for MySQL support dollars

Oracle is facing a series of challenges for MySQL support revenues from third-party providers who say they can provide equal or better service for the open-source database.

Startup SkySQL, which was founded last year by former MySQL employees and investors, recently made its pricing details public. The German firm charges $500 per server for Basic, $1,800 per server for Silver and $4,000 for Platinum. There is also an unlimited option that starts at $38,000. Included features vary depending on the level.

In contrast, Oracle now charges $2,000 per server for MySQL Standard Edition support, which doubles to $4,000 for servers with five or more sockets; and $5,000 per server for Enterprise Edition, which also doubles to $10,000 for five-plus sockets.

Oracle has also introduced a Cluster Carrier Grade edition that is priced at $10,000 per server for one- to four-socket servers and $20,000 per server for those with five or more.

SkySQL's pricing does not place limits on server sockets, according to a spokesman.

However, customers don't get 24-7 coverage and options like performance tuning until they upgrade to Platinum support. Oracle includes around-the-clock coverage as well as "consultative support," which gives advice on setup and tuning, starting at $2,000 per server with Standard Edition.

Meanwhile, SkySQL's low-end offering serves as a potential replacement for a $599 entry-level support option Oracle recently dropped. The company responded to criticisms of its move by saying the low-end offering was never popular and offered limited benefits. Standard Edition support offers much more value, Oracle said.

SkySQL, which claims to have signed up about 40 customers since October, is banking on the fact that its staff is stocked with MySQL veterans who know the technology and how to support it. "We don't have any rookies on board," said CEO Ulf Sandberg, who himself ran global services at MySQL.

The company is also partnering with Monty Program, another MySQL support provider, which was founded by MySQL creator Michael "Monty" Widenius. Monty Program provides Level 3 support for the most serious issues. SkySQL is also supporting Monty Program's MariaDB, an offshoot or "fork" of MySQL.

Other companies, such as OpenLogic, are providing MySQL support as well.

OpenLogic offers a number of support levels, each providing for unlimited servers and incidents. "Overall this may mean that other vendors are less expensive for a couple servers, but OpenLogic's pricing will be much more cost effective as implementation grows," the company said via e-mail. "All support is done on the pure open source version of MySQL -- there are no proprietary licensed components."

An OpenLogic business hour support plan costs $6,000, and a 24-7 Production Support tier is $17,500. Pricing for Monty Program's services wasn't available.

Third-party support in general is a sore spot for vendors, since it cuts into the lucrative revenues that provide income even when new license sales are down.

Oracle famously sued SAP over intellectual-property violations by its former subsidiary TomorrowNow, which provided support for Oracle applications at discounted rates. SAP admitted liability for TomorrowNow's actions and a jury subsequently awarded Oracle $1.3 billion.

Oracle has also sued Rimini Street, which is led by a TomorrowNow co-founder, on similar grounds. Rimini Street has denied all wrongdoing.

Some observers believe the legal cloud formed by that litigation over third-party support has slowed down the market's growth.

Given that MySQL is open source, customers may have less to worry about, at least for now.

"If MySQL is truly open source then the risks aren't too bad," said analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research. "But if Oracle tries to make things proprietary in MySQL for the sake of optimization or other control gates, then the risks are the same as any other third-party maintenance vendor. You don't have rights to upgrade and the product is regulatory and tax support mode only."

If Oracle were to do so, it would be in direct contradiction of a series of commitments it made in 2009 to European antitrust regulators prior to completing the acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

One commitment stated that "customers will not be required to purchase support services from Oracle as a condition to obtaining a commercial license to MySQL." Another said Oracle would continue to improve MySQL and make future versions available under the GPL open-source license.

However, some critics have downplayed the significance of Oracle's statements.

There are other risks to consider as well, particularly if a customer decides to go with a third party's offshoot version of MySQL, one observer suggested.

"Without enterprise-class product management, architecture and quality control, the open source developers could be introducing as many bugs and dehancements (if that's a word) as enhancements," Forrester Research analyst Duncan Jones said via e-mail. "Commercial open source products such as Red Hat and Ingres address that by providing a quality management overlay, including extensive testing of the snapshot version that they release and support."

"That's expensive, so the bigger they get, the more thorough they can be and the more frequently they can issue new releases," he added. "So I'd say the biggest risk of a small support provider is that it can't afford to do sufficient testing."

A third party may be able to respond to support calls, "but you want investment in bug prevention, not reactive rectification," Jones said.

SkySQL considers MariaDB to be of the same quality as MySQL, given the caliber and experience of people working on it, Sandberg said. The offshoot could even someday surpass Oracle's version over time as the best MySQL talent leaves the company, he contended.

"They have the IP rights and the trademarks, but they really don't own the product. It's GPL. [And] they really don't own the people," he said.

An Oracle spokeswoman declined comment.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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