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Why open source and MySQL are winning corporate hearts

Corporate IT shops today don't have money to burn, says Zack Urlocker, a MySQL AB executive. So, figuratively speaking, why should they buy a Hummer when a hatchback will do the job? Sure, he says, the MySQL open source database doesn't have all the capabilities of Oracle, IBM and Microsoft databases. But, he says, MySQL has all the capabilities most businesses need. That's why MySQL has been put to work by Sabre, Federal Express, Sony, Suzuki, Ingram Entertainment, Lufthansa, NASA, Omaha Steaks and UPS. In this interview, Urlocker – MySQL marketing vice president – explains why businesses are getting more and more enamored with open source software and MySQL.

Many IT managers have told me that MySQL's rise is one of the big stories in 2004. Why are they saying that?
The idea of an open source database in the enterprise has now come of age, and open source databases – particularly MySQL – have matured at the right time. Linux started out on the enterprise periphery with Web applications and has now migrated into the core of the data center. MySQL is following a similar evolutionary path.

Recently, many businesses' IT buyers have had a lot of success and saved a lot of money with Linux. Now, they are looking to squeeze the budgets further and looking for places to use more commodity software and hardware. They want to move up that open source stack, to use an open source app stack. Already, we have got five million active MySQL installations.

Earlier this year, MySQL CEO Marten Mickos told me that he is not casting MySQL as an Oracle competitor but more as a complimentary solution. Is that still MySQL's approach?
Yes. Most of our customers are running Oracle, IBM DB2 or Microsoft (SQL Server) somewhere in their shops. It seems that everybody has a mixed environment today.

Databases are a pyramid in terms of functionality. At the top of that pyramid, for example, Oracle databases are running credit processing of credit cards on a high-performance system. Or, IT organizations are and should continue running Oracle or DB2 if they need grid capabilities.

MySQL is trying to do those things at the top of the pyramid. For many applications, however, a company only needs a fairly basic database server. It has got to be fast, scalable and standard. In these situation, if an IT organization can get 90% of the functionality of an Oracle or DB2 database for 10% of the price, that is a pretty compelling argument for an open source database.

So, tighter budgets have made open source software much more attractive?
Yes. In the last few years, we have seen a big shift as budgets dwindled in IT. The good thing about that is that buyers now scrutinize their relationships with vendors more carefully and exert more control than they have before. Having open source software as an alternative gives them more control and more options.

That need for options has led IT people to take a closer look at open source software. People now realize you don't have to be bleeding edge to adopt open source software. They realize that you can use open source software and still get the support they need.

The open source software providers have also stepped up to meet those needs. Five years ago, you were really on your own if you were using open source. Now you have got IBM, Oracle, HP, Novel all standing behind and supporting open source and that is a good move. Open source providers also have support programs, such as MySQL's new premium support program.

You said that MySQL is appropriate for certain applications that don't need very complex database capability. Can you pinpoint some of those?
Web applications are a sweet spot for us, be they internal- facing Internet applications or external-facing e-commerce apps. Online customer self-service is a sweet spot because our database is very fast, very responsive and has full transaction integrity. That said, MySQL capabilities go further up the pyramid to data warehousing applications. It is not complex to set up, is able to scale and meet the performance needs in a great way and then we have got customers like Yahoo Google or thousands of servers.

Beyond e-commerce, retail applications do well on MySQL. Suzuki, for example, use MySQL in a kiosk application in 600 stores. The application lets bikers come in and customize their bikes. Those kiosks have to run well with no onsite database administrator, little maintenance and nightly updates, all things that MySQL is right for.

People tell us about many other types of applications that they have created using MySQL. In many of these cases, using commercial licenses from Oracle or Microsoft would have been cost prohibitive.

What are the most common concerns IT pros express to you about using open source database?
Most customers today are comfortable with Linux and Apache, and those open source products have blazed the trail for us.

That said, we often get questions about well who owns the intellectual property, who sets the road map and who provides support. We and other open source providers have positive answers to all of those questions today.

Just the fact that people are asking a lot of questions shows that there is growing momentum in the open source database arena. People can now pick and choose between different technologies. Even CA and Microsoft are starting to open source some of their technologies. Five years from now most infrastructure software will all be open source. That may be a radical comment, but I'm not afraid to make it!

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