New MySQL database aims for enterprise customers

The latest version of the open-source database is expected next month

MySQL AB is eyeing a November release for Version 5 of its open-source database, a major upgrade that the company hopes will make it a bigger player among enterprise customers.

The Swedish company released what may be the final test version of the product, known as a release candidate, about two weeks ago. If no "showstopper bugs" turn up, it will ship the final, commercial version next month, said Kaj Arno, MySQL vice president for community relations.

The company is calling Version 5 its most significant upgrade yet. It adds a handful of features considered important for enterprises that have long been available from market leaders Oracle Corp., IBM and Microsoft Corp. Chief among them are triggers, views and stored procedures.

MySQL has also changed the way its database performs some common tasks, such as error checking, to make it behave like other databases. The idea is to make it easier for a database administrator to switch from another platform, encouraging migrations. The "old" ways of doing things will still be an option, and the vast majority of current MySQL applications will run unchanged on Version 5, according to David Axmark, a MySQL co-founder who has the job title "open sorcerer."

The price for MySQL Network, company's subscription support service, will not change, Axmark said. It ranges from $594 to $4,806 per server per year, depending on the level required. Its database is also available free under the General Public License and under a commercial license for redistribution with other products.

MySQL has always denied it competes directly with Oracle and IBM, preferring to call its product complementary. That may have been because of the limitations of its software or because it was unwilling to stir up its bigger rivals.

MySQL isn't laying claim to Oracle's high-end business, but the new features in the upgrade will make the software suitable for a wider range of enterprise tasks, including running ERP applications, according to Axmark.

"We won't attack the data center installations, but there are thousands of other platforms out there for which, in some cases, an enterprise database may be too much," he said.

Axmark positioned MySQL 5 as a no-frills product for a wide range of data management needs, calling it "not the Rolls-Royce but the economy class." Other executives likened databases to DVD players, suggesting the category has been commoditized and that one database can easily substitute for another.

That may be true for some basic tasks, but Oracle, IBM and even Microsoft continue to offer capabilities that keep their products far ahead of MySQL, said Gary Barnett, an industry analyst at U.K. research company Ovum Ltd.

"Ask Larry Ellison if databases are a commodity while he's sipping a cup of coffee and you'll have coffee all down your shirt," he said, referring to Oracle's chairman.

Barnett was skeptical that MySQL will drum up much new enterprise business anytime soon. License and maintenance fees are only a small part of the cost of owning a database, and MySQL will have to show other clear, tangible benefits if users are to migrate to it, he said.

Customers also have other open-source options, although MySQL may be the best known. The Apache Software Foundation offers Apache Derby, the Cloudscape database that IBM contributed to the open-source community last year, and several companies offer databases based on PostgreSQL.

In addition, Oracle and IBM have released low-cost versions of their database for smaller customers, and both have released source code for noncore products in a bid to court the open-source community.

On Friday, Oracle acquired open-source database company Innobase Oy, whose storage engine is often used as part of MySQL. Oracle pledged to renew its contract with MySQL, Axmark noted. And if anything goes awry, MySQL could always "fork" the development of InnoDB and create another version, he said, though it would prefer not to.

MySQL faces other challenges, too. There are no ERP applications certified to run on its platform today, although it is working on certification with SAP AG, as well as with Dutch financial software vendor Agresso, Axmark said. The work with SAP could be finished in about a year, he estimated.

Still, MySQL 5 elevates MySQL into the class of a "true database," said Barnett. It should lead to more independent software vendors embedding MySQL in their products, and MySQL will probably find its software being deployed in new environments, he said. The company also has the backing of Novell Inc., Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., all of which have said they will resell support services for its product.

"They are much more credible now for ERP and for transaction-based applications," Barnett said. "But it's always a slower burn than people in the [open-source] community would like it to be."

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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