By Russell J.T. Dyer
We're seeing comprehensive support packages such as MySQL Network and Red Hat Network cropping up in a variety of open-source companies. One has to wonder if this will be enough for open-source companies to be able compete for bigger markets. To get some insights, I spoke with Zack Urlocker, MySQL AB's Vice President of Marketing.
Question: What has led companies like MySQL, RedHat, and others to begin offering services to complement their software?
Response: As open-source software becomes more mainstream, there are now companies that want to take advantage of the lower total cost of ownership and platform flexibility, but they don't necessarily have the skills in place. The open-source LAMP stack (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP, Perl, Python) has gone beyond the stage of early adopters like Google, Yahoo and others. Now we find major retailers, banks, telecommunications companies interested in saving money with open-source, particularly on large "scale out" opportunities where they have dozens or hundreds of commodity servers running open-source software. Since many of these organizations are not experts in open-source, they are looking to get help, support, best practices information on how to do it right. That's led to service offerings like MySQL Network or Red Hat Network that give them the support and proactive services they need to take advantage of open-source quickly.
Question: Do you see offering product enhancements as a growing trend in the open-source software market?
Response: I think there are many ways to create a business model around open-source. In our case, MySQL Network makes a lot of sense. We continue to have the MySQL Community Edition which is free and we now have a commercial offering, MySQL Network, for those who want certified binaries, production support, a knowledge base, and proactive software advisors to help ensure everything is working right. Over time, we'll be adding more of these software advisors that act as a kind of "assistant DBA" and take a lot of the grunt work out of managing database servers, troubleshooting, optimizing performance and so on.
For open-source to meet the needs of mainstream enterprise customers, there's more to it than just the software. So I think we will see more of this type of offering. In fact, there's kind of a second generation of open-source companies that have emerged—Companies that own the intellectual property and also provide additional services and products around it. I would put companies like MySQL, Zend, Jboss, SugarCRM in this group. All of us are completely committed to open-source, but not as a religion. Open-source is a part of the business model that enables each of us to build great software at a lower cost.
Question: How will open-source co-exist with closed-source proprietary software?
Response: As open-source emerges to become more mainstream, I think we will see more of a blended model, where people combine open-source with their existing closed-source proprietary software. A good example of that is how more closed-source applications and tools are supporting open-source platforms and infrastructure. IBM and Oracle have done a great job promoting this blended model and making Linux a safe choice for companies. And now we're seeing many traditional applications like BusinessObjects, SAP, Hyperion starting to support MySQL. Similarly, the database tools companies like Quest Software and Embarcadero are now supporting MySQL. So I think this is a good thing. It gives people more flexibility to use open-source where it fits and combine it with closed-source where that makes sense. I think sometimes there's a myth that open-source is an "all or nothing" proposition. But in reality, there's no reason you can't mix and match. Similarly, MySQL runs great on Windows, Solaris, AIX and other closed source platforms. You don't need to go to a full LAMP stack to use MySQL. That makes it easy for people to test out open source one piece at a time.
Russell Dyer is a Perl programmer and a MySQL developer living and working in New Orleans. He is the author of MySQL in a Nutshell (O'Reilly 2005). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.