Update: MySQL buys company, hires noted database architect

It acquires Netfrastructure -- and gets company founder and President Jim Starkey in the deal

MySQL AB said today that it has acquired a small Web application technology company and in the process hired its founder, Jim Starkey, a noted database software architect.

MySQL said it acquired Netfrastructure Inc., a privately held U.S. company that makes tools and server software for building Web-based applications, for an undisclosed sum. Starkey, who was Netfrastructure's founder and president, becomes a senior software architect at MySQL, the company said.

The move follows Oracle Corp.'s recent acquisition of two open-source database companies, Innobase Oy and Sleepycat Software Inc., and was seen by some as a defensive move by MySQL to strengthen its development team and provide new options for the future development of its open-source database.

Before Netfrastructure, Starkey founded Interbase Software Corp. and developed its relational database of the same name. Interbase claimed to be the first database to incorporate several features that are now widely used, including event alerts, triggers and support for BLOBS (binary large objects). Starkey also designed the former Digital Equipment Corp.'s relational database architecture, MySQL said.

Interbase Software was eventually acquired by Borland Software Inc., which released the software's code to the open-source community. That led to the creation of the Firebird open-source database project, for which Starkey was a contributor.

MySQL also hired Ann Harrison, who is Starkey's wife and a contributor to Interbase's development, and Taneli Otala, chief technology officer at security analytics company SenSage Inc. Otala, who once worked at Oracle, becomes MySQL chief technology officer, the company said.

Starkey's move to MySQL led to speculation that the company plans to move its database to the Firebird architecture to counter Oracle's open-source acquisitions. Innobase and Sleepycat made two of the popular database transaction engines used with MySQL's database.

A MySQL spokeswoman said it is "incorrect" that the Uppsala, Sweden-based company plans to adopt the Firebird architecture, however. The company hired Starkey, Harrison and Otala to "help us deliver on all the plans that we haven't had time to pursue yet -- and also supply us with lots of fresh ideas," MySQL said.

Others have speculated that Starkey will develop a new transactional engine for MySQL.

"I'll be interested to see what he works on. First will presumably be the defensive task of building a long-overdue transaction engine," wrote Ian Gilfillan, author of the book Mastering MySQL 4, in a posting in his blog last week, when Starkey first leaked word of his new job.

Kaj Arno, MySQL's vice president for community relations, didn't rule out that possibility but said no decision has been made. "It's a bit too early to speculate what his tasks would involve," he said.

The decision on whether to develop a new transaction engine rests largely on the outcome of MySQL's negotiations with Oracle to extend its contract to keep using Innobase's InnoDB engine, Arno said. He declined to comment on when the current contract expires, saying only that it was "not a short-term thing."

"We're looking at several different options of how to proceed. The default is the relationship with Oracle and we're seeing if we can continue that," he said.

He also would not comment on whether the transaction engine in Netfrastructure's software works with MySQL today or how much porting work would be required. "We're looking at all the different ways of using the technology [Starkey] has provided. We're not ready to comment on specifics."

As for the software MySQL bought, Netfrastructure's Web development products combine a Firebird-like database developed by Starkey and an application server, Arno said. MySQL could integrate the software with its own in several different ways. "It's not just the storage engine that would do some good, I think it could bring us forward in several ways," he said.

A posting attributed to Starkey on the Firebird News Web site said, "MySQL and Firebird have never seen each other as competitors, and I doubt this will change in the future. The projects have different open-source philosophies, different technologies, different customer bases and different sweet spots.

"My decision to join MySQL has almost nothing to do with Firebird and everything to do with Netfrastructure," he wrote.

Starkey said he expects to "lurk on the architecture list" for Firebird from time to time but will not take an active part in Firebird development.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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