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MySQL's growing NoSQL problem

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Open ... and Shut Just a few short years ago, MySQL was the undisputed king of the open-source database hill. But with the NoSQL market emerging at an 82 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), it's looking like MySQL may get bulldozed by its NoSQL peers.

While this shift toward NoSQL provides an interesting commentary on where the industry is heading, it's even more instructive about the frenetic pace of innovation that open source is driving.

It says little about Oracle's stewardship of MySQL.

By most accounts, Oracle has taken good care of MySQL, investing resources to improve the technology and continuing to foster its community. As Matthew Aslett, research manager with 451 Research, notes: "The MySQL ecosystem is now arguably more healthy and vibrant than it has ever been, with a strong vendor committed to the core product, and a wealth of alternative and complementary products and services on offer to maintain competitive pressure on Oracle."

Aslett shared a few thoughts in a presentation entitled Whatever Happened to MySQL? at the Open Source Business Conference (of which I'm programme chair: it was held in San Francisco earlier this week). He said the majority of cases where companies abandoned MySQL in the wake of Oracle's ownership suggested Oracle's management of MySQL has been positive or, at worst, neutral.

This is why 451 Research pegs the MySQL market at $664m by 2015, growing at a healthy 40 per cent CAGR:

What isn't healthy in that chart, however, is the rise of the NoSQL database market. While Aslett was quick to point out that only 12.7 per cent of those companies abandoning MySQL were directly replacing it with a NoSQL database, he went further to suggest that this still represents an infinitesimal drop in MySQL's installed base. The most common replacement for MySQL? PostgreSQL. But even this is a tiny sliver of the overall MySQL installed base.

Running the numbers, Aslett pointed out that NoSQL vendors collectively claim 900 paying customers. If 25 per cent of these reflect replacements of MySQL that still represents less than 1.5 per cent of the estimated installed base of Oracle's MySQL paying customers, or less than 0.002 per cent of the total estimated MySQL installed base.

In other words, NoSQL is not making a dent in MySQL's installed base.

But where NoSQL poses a clear and present danger to MySQL is in the web application market where MySQL has made its name. Few are going to rip and replace a database for existing applications, but new applications are increasingly going the NoSQL route. As 451 Research notes: "NoSQL database technologies are largely being adopted for new projects that require additional scalability, performance, relaxed consistency and agility."

Back in 2009 then-MySQL chief executive Marten Mickos argued that Oracle should be allowed to buy MySQL as part of its bid for Sun Microsystems, as MySQL didn't directly compete with Oracle. As he said: "MySQL is growing like crazy. That hasn't hurt Oracle. MySQL works for Web-based applications. Oracle is for older, legacy applications."

Today those same, web-based applications are being built with NoSQL, and decreasingly MySQL.

This is actually pretty amazing when we stop to consider just how quickly this shift occurred. While NoSQL was first introduced as a concept in 1998, it really wasn't until 2009 that it emerged as a real trend. At that time, MySQL was the undisputed leader in open-source databases. But this dominance has had a short shelf-life, as Aslett presented using a series of 451 Research headlines:

“MySQL was very much the crown jewel of the open source database world.”

– May 2008

“There are relatively few choices for Oracle's rivals to respond to its ownership of MySQL.”

– May 2009

“The database market is awash with open source databases with lightweight architectures targeted at web applications.”

– April 2011

From no real alternatives to MySQL to an overabundance, and in just two years. That's an amazingly fast shift, and it says a great deal about how open source drives innovation.

Think about the important technologies that move the industry today. CIOs cite cloud and Big Data as their top-two priorities in 2012, according to a recent InformationWeek survey:

Both cloud and Big Data are overwhelmingly fueled by open source, whether it's Hadoop, Pig, Linux, or OpenStack. While open source has certainly invaded the data centre, it's really in the cloud that it dominates, as Bryan Che, senior director of product management at Red Hat, declares:

Open source is certainly at the foundation in terms of building out cloud technologies. If you take a look at market share in the server space, as you look at traditional data centers, about 70 per cent are running on the Windows platform and about 30 per cent are running Linux. As you take a look at what operating systems people are choosing to build applications on in the cloud, the ratio flips completely.

The concept of cloud has been around for awhile, but it didn't really hit its stride until relevant open-source projects made it cost effective to build and run a cloud. Similarly, we've had data mining and warehousing for many years, but it wasn't until Hadoop changed both the economics and performance of mining Big Data that the trend really came into its own.

We are now in a hyper-innovation mode when open source is no longer really competing against proprietary software, which can't keep up, but is instead competing with other open-source projects. There is rampant competition within the database market, as noted above, but also within Hadoop, for example, and between a wide array of open-source technologies. For the customer, it means that it's getting harder to choose between alternatives, but it also means those alternatives are getting better all the time, faster than ever before. ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Nodeable, offering systems management for managing and analysing cloud-based data. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco'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 three times a week on The Register.

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