Over the past month there has been a steady trickle of announcements from organisations switching from MySQL to MariaDB.
From next month, MariaDB will replace MySQL as the default database in Fedora. And now RedHat has announced its doing the same. Even Wikimedia started using it.
So what is MariaDB, why is the switch happening, and what are the implications?
MariaDB is a fork of MySQL intended to be, as much as possible, a drop-in replacement for MySQL in most cases. It has pretty much the same features, with some extras and claims performance improvements over the original.
However, I don’t think its really the pros and cons of the technology that matters so much as the backstory.
MySQL was acquired by Sun Microsystems in 2009. However, one of the original developers of MySQL, ‘Monty’ Widenius, was unhappy with the way things were working out at Sun, and left to start his own company, and his own fork of MySQL, MariaDB. The later acquisition of Sun by Oracle was also viewed negatively by Widenius, who issued a call to arms to “save MySQL”.
When comparing MariaDB and MySQL, we’re comparing cultures of development as well as feature sets.
Oracle is perceived – rightly or wrongly – as having a conflict of interest as the owners of MySQL and also suppliers of its major closed-source competitor, leading people to suspect that the company is being slow to develop the database further.
It is also seen as being less open in its development process, and losing the trust of the community. For example, where Oracle have added major new capabilities to MySQL, these are often closed-source extensions. Oracle also stopped using a public bug tracker and instead switched to it internal system. These moves – and others – are cited as examples of Oracle moving away from the open development model that made MySQL successful in the first place.
However, is MariaDB, any more “open” than Oracle?
MariaDB is managed by the MariaDb Foundation, and has been developing its community governance model. The board of MariaDB includes some well-known figures from the Open Source world including Simon Phipps of the Open Source Initiative, and Andrew Katz of Moorcrofts; in April, Phipps was elected as the MariaDB Foundation CEO. On the commercial side, MariaDB service providers include Monty Program, the company founded by Widenius, and SkySQL, founded by other former MySQL employees.
This separation in governance between service providers and the development community counters the perception of “conflict of interest” found with Oracle and MySQL, and also means that the Foundation can implement policies and practices that support openness and transparency in the running of the project.
Is openness and transparency reason enough to switch?
One of the claims made by MariaDB is that it applies community patches and implements new features much more rapidly than Oracle. If MariaDB is iterating faster than MySQL, fixing bugs and implementing new technologies, without sacrificing stability and quality, then this is a key product differentiator.
So for some, switching to MariaDb may mean they are more comfortable with the governance and management of the community. For others, it’s the benefits that stem from that openness that will drive them to switch.
(It’s difficult to determine which is the prime motivator, as even where companies switch out of a concern over Oracle’s stewardship of MySQL they are more likely to couch this in terms of the technical advantages of MariaDB rather than blatantly come out and say it.)
What this story also shows is how the strategic use of forking – the “nuclear option” of open source – can be a viable strategy once a project becomes perceived by its community as going down the wrong path. And probably a better option than waiting until the company discontinues the product, and then attempting to resurrect it.
And whatever happens at least we won’t need to stop using the acronym LAMP.
Are you looking to switch to MariaDB? If so, why? Let us know in the comments.
Photo by by bnorwood used under a CC-BY Creative Commons License