April 23, 2013 11:02 pm

MySQL team face rival of their own invention

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A European team of software engineers who sold their start-up to Sun Microsystems for $1bn is to be reunited under a merger that will pit them against their original creation, now owned by Oracle.

Michael “Monty” Widenius developed MySQL, a database technology for organising large amounts of information, in 1995.

MySQL was wildly successful and became the world’s most popular open-source database technology. It played a pivotal role in establishing Europe as a stronghold for the open-source movement, in contrast to big US companies with proprietary technology.

Early customers for the free MySQL software included Google, Yahoo and Facebook. As the numbers of customers grew, companies started paying for some services, creating revenues for MySQL.

The Sweden-based business was planning to float in 2008 but was snapped up by Sun Microsystems in January that year for $1bn. Sun was in turn bought by Oracle in 2010 for $7.4bn.

Oracle, Microsoft and IBM together hold 85 per cent of the database market in terms of sales.

But MySQL’s ownership by Oracle, which makes money through its own proprietary databases, proved unpopular with the open-source community, who say they were not allowed to contribute in the same way. Mr Widenius and his team soon left and created MariaDB, another open-source database now being used by Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia.

Many of the original support team for MySQL also left to found SkySQL, which sells services and support to companies that want to use MariaDB.

Helsinki-based SkySQL announced on Thursday that it has agreed to merge with Monty Program Ab, Mr Widenius’ company, thus reuniting the original development team behind MySQL.

The companies would not disclose commercial terms, but Patrik Sallner, SkySQL chief executive who will become chief executive of the merged company, said it was “mostly share based”, with Monty Program employees becoming shareholders in SkySQL and Mr Widenius holding a non-executive director role at SkySQL.

The merged company aims to provide a rival product to Oracle, IBM and Microsoft, while preserving the open-source spirit of allowing free access to the underlying technology for anyone to use or build on.

“I’m ensuring that the MariaDB project will remain ‘open source forever’,” Mr Widenius said, adding that MariaDB was named after his second child, and “who doesn’t want the best for their children?”

They face a big challenge, however, in making MariaDB, which has been downloaded 1m times, as big a commercial success as MySQL, which is being used by tens of millions of companies worldwide.

“We will be doing a lot of new feature development and moving it forward,” Mr Sallner said.

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