MySQL price hikes reveal depth of Oracle's wallet love

Time for Postgres?

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Open...and Shut Oracle has repeatedly declared its intent to invest heavily in MySQL technology in its effort to up-end Microsoft's SQL Server business.

What it didn't say, but which should have been clear, given Oracle's treatment of its own database customers, is that MySQL customers were going to have to pay for those investments. Through the nose.

That's the cheery message MySQL customers are now getting from Oracle's MySQL sales team, one of whos emails was forwarded to me. These emails promise "changes to MySQL's pricing and possibly pricing model soon," with a further stealth price increase in the form of removal of MySQL's Basic and Silver support options.

Here is the Oracle letter in its entirety:

Hello Customer,

I am writing as way of introduction. My name is [removed] and I am your MySQL contact at Oracle. It is my understanding that you are the most appropriate person to speak with at your organization regarding MySQL. If you have any MySQL requirements, questions on the products, support, consulting or training we provide, please do not hesitate in contacting me.

I'm sure you are aware that Oracle purchased Sun and therefore MySQL last February. We're being told that there will be changes to MySQL's pricing and possibly pricing model soon and wanted to let you know. We have not had a price increase for over 6 years but there will be an increase in the next price list that will be available soon. We've been expecting the increase for the past couple of months but I'm told it the new price list will be released soon.

For those of you using Basic and Silver support we're being told those options will no longer be available. If you wish to continue with Basic or Silver you will need to sign a multi-year agreement and you would be able to keep using Basic or Silver for up to another 3 years.

If you are considering purchasing additional licenses for MySQL support subscription, please let me know, because you can save money if you do it before the changes take place, some time in the next month or two. You can also sign multi-year agreements and lock down current prices for up to 3 years.

You can receive up to a 30% discount for a 3 yr. commitments pre-pay but annual payments are available as well for multi-year agreements.

If you would like to speak to someone about MySQL Cluster, please let me know and I can arrange for an expert to call you within the next week.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Thank you, [Name removed] Oracle

There is no clear guidance on how much of a price increase to expect, but people are beginning to make educated guesses.

If customers want to stay with MySQL, they're going to need to go Gold or better, and they're going to need to pay more than they're accustomed. Unless, of course, they act now and lock themselves into a long-term support contract. The generosity or Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison knows no bounds.

All's fair in love and software pricing, of course, and somebody has to pay for all the MySQL development Oracle has been doing. At its recent OpenWorld conference, Oracle chief corporate architect Edward Screven suggested: "Some folks thought when we'd acquire Sun [Microsystems], we'd deprecate MySQL, but it's quite the opposite... We are focused on making MySQL better."

And pricier, but that might well be a good thing. Former MySQL executives Marten Mickos and Zack Urlocker managed to build a very healthy $100m business, but undoubtedly wouldn't have minded customers paying a bit more. They simply lacked the pricing power, as perhaps reflected in the MySQL Unlimited program. This program gave customers the right to run unlimited instances of MySQL for an initial annual fee of $40,000, which program was adopted by Sun and bumped to a $65,000 entry fee.

It was a way to make it cheap to significantly deploy MySQL throughout an enterprise. Apparently, Oracle feels it's time to stop seeding the ground and begin reaping. As The Register's Gavin Clarke recently wrote of the MySQL team within Oracle:

[Robin] Hood's [MySQL] men are about to find the responsibility of running the castle is a lot less fun and more predictable and businesslike than ambushing the enemy in the woods...

MySQL was growing under Sun. In fact, it was Sun's fastest growing software business. It just wasn't growing fast enough, so Oracle's strapping a rocket on the database's business.

Clarke was speaking of enterprise-class technology upgrades to MySQL, but Oracle is apparently also thinking of enterprise-class pricing upgrades. Oracle, after all, is used to getting paid. This is the company that raised prices by 20 per cent in 2008 and another 40 per cent in 2009 as the economy stuttered to resurrect itself.

But Oracle just might be playing an overly aggressive hand.

MySQL rules the web database market, but as Oracle improves its viability in the transactional, enterprise market, open-source Postgres is waiting in the wings. Postgres has long been the unfortunately forgotten stepchild of open-source databases, but that may be changing.

In 2009, Red Hat invested in EnterpriseDB, a company backing the Postgres database, reportedly as a hedge against an Oracle/MySQL combination. More recently, my own conversations with EnterpriseDB sales executives indicate an acceleration of commercial interest in Postgres, including from MySQL customers who are anxious that Oracle may ruin MySQL for them.

On the other hand, a Jaspersoft survey finds "most respondents think Oracle is a better steward of Java and MySQL than Sun."

Whether they're willing to pay extra for such stewardship is an open question, one that Oracle must be believe customers will answer with a "Yes." In its own database business Oracle has generally been right: price increases have not caused a customer exodus. But then, Oracle was never dealing with freedom-loving, tight-fisted MySQL customers before.

This could get interesting. ®

Matt Asay is chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open-source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears every Friday on The Register.

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