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Oracle buys MySQL, to ease moves to 11g?

Oracle is purchasing Sun Microsystems, a transaction which includes acquiring control of the popular MySQL database that's been freeware for many years. There's some possibility that Oracle might be killing off MySQL, a relational database that's been attractive because it's a no-cost platform for the frugal business computer enterprise.

But Charles Finley, whose Transformix firm migrates HP 3000 customers to platforms including IBM and Linux, says that MySQL probably doesn't sit on Oracle's hit list once the Sun deal goes through. One reason for MySQL's safety is that Oracle has improved the entry-level cost of using the 11g version of its database. Oracle hasn't reported what it intends to do with MySQL, but one possibility is to create an automatic converter to bring MySQL databases into Oracle.

How can a solution like Oracle present a value proposition to compete with a free relational database? Finley says the vendor has made good strides toward affordability for Oracle 11g.

"On the low end they've got some interesting pricing," Finley said. "If you've got fewer than 20 users and an Oracle license for a single application, if you get the license through an Oracle partner the price is very reasonable."

It's not always impossible to compete on price with a free solution. There's value for money to consider, too. Finley says that when a customer evaluates functionality of Oracle versus MySQL, or even PostgreSQL, Oracle's offer looks pretty good. The vendor has become sensitive to the pricing of SQL Server, an obvious choice for those who migrate to Windows.

"When compared to the price of SQL Server, [the low end of Oracle] is about the same," he said. "Oracle gets more sales from the low end than you would think. There are a lot of people who are only buying an application. Those people aren't paying a ridiculous amount for Oracle. Where Oracle gets you is when you do general purpose usages."

But that kind of customer, especially those who need clustered databases, can see a big payoff from choosing Oracle, he added. "Very sophisticated users get value out of choosing Oracle. It has application-friendly features that are valuable to a developer, because they save you time and money."

Like any free solution, MySQL has blind spots, and some have emerged in Finley's migration engagements. "Our complaint concerns how we re-implement TurboIMAGE on a given database, especially how MySQL implements scrollable cursors," he said. "To re-implement TurboIMAGE we need these, and MySQL doesn't have them it its API. This limits our ability to clone TurboIMAGE on top of MySQL."

To be accurate, MySQL is in use at Amazon, Google, YouTube and Flickr. But the database with 11 million users is also known to have extremely poor subselect performance, something Finley confirmed his company experienced.

PostgreSQL can support scrollable cursors. That open source relational database has been deployed in some large projects, Finley said, such as Skype. PostgreSQL also has the advantage of not being splintered (a spin-off version of MySQL was launched some time ago). And PostgreSQL isn't under Oracle's control, either.

Open source databases such as these can be popular with the customer who doesn't ever want a vendor to control platform choices. HP did this when it canceled its 3000 business, a move that triggered all of this movement to new databases. Once the deal goes through, Oracle could make MySQL a friendly place to stage an ultimate move to Oracle, rather than kill off the free alternative.

"I doubt seriously they would make any attempt to kill it," Finley says. "It would seem that a better strategy would be to leave in its current limitations so that users can 'grow into' Oracle."

The good news coming from Oracle's Sun purchase seems to be on the Java front. "We use Oracle a lot," Finley says, "and Java is very prominent, even in their database product. It is used to install and administer the database engine... and it seems to define their surround strategy for development tools, application servers, and more. Therefore, I expect them to further capitalize on those two areas."