How the co-creator of MySQL came to love databases

The underlying layer, the developers… Sun has one of the best groups of developers I've ever met. They were what kept Sun working as long as it did. But the middle-management, just under the top, that was the one that destroyed Sun.

LXF: So it's at that point that Sun was bought by Oracle?

MW: Yes. It was a shame that Oracle was able to do that for a much lower price than what Sun was worth. But the other side to the story, one of the reasons why Oracle wanted to buy Sun, was MySQL. They made it clear to the EU that if they didn't get MySQL, they wouldn't buy Sun.

LXF: Did Oracle want to buy MySQL simply to stop people using it?

MW: Yeah. They wanted to have control, but by buying MySQL they also had to agree in some sense to the European Union that for five years they would continue developing it. They also said that they would spend $20 million a year in development.

LXF: But they're never going to make more money from MySQL than from their own databases.

MW: Of course not. But they also have the problem that they didn't expect me to do a fork. Because that is not economically viable to do that. I've already spent €4 million on keeping MariaDB alive, without having any chance to do any big win on that. In the best case, if things work very well, I can get my money back, but not more. But people don't do that. So they never expected that to happen.

The other thing is also that they've kept a very good face on the outside of doing something with MySQL and even if they'd lost most of their good engineers, they still have the InnoDB team, and that is working very well, the NDB team who are doing their MySQL cluster, that is also working, and the application team is somewhat working.

The other teams are not really working. And they also lost control of the source code, because they don't have people who understand it, so they know they're doing strange things which causes problems for us when they do a merge because we can't accept all their changes. We have to basically redo a lot.

But fortunately, I was able to bring all the best developers into MariaDB. We are 18 people as of late July 2012, and we have all the important architects of MySQL - the people who did almost all the important features are all working for MariaDB.

LXF: How different is it now in comparison to when you started MySQL?

MW: All of Sun's customers were very scared of what would happen with their support contracts - all the sales people went out and sold 3-5 year support agreements to all the most important and heaviest MySQL users. Which means that for 3-4 years they didn't have to go out and buy support from somebody else.

So we only use MySQL code under GPL and the main revenue is support; you couldn't find the customers. So basically I had to fund everything myself until these contracts run out. We're starting to get customers now, but it took us all this time just to break even.