This week I had an opportunity to spend some time at the annual MySQL conference in Santa Clara California. This is the second time I attended this conference. Last time I was at the MySQL conference was in the Spring of 2008 and the big news then was SUN acquisition of MySQL for a cool billion $s. This time it was Oracle swallowing SUN. So, when I was ready to go I was really curious to see how the conference would have changed and what the mood of the community would be.

Here are my highly subjective impressions. First, I should mention that this conference is not run by Oracle but by O’Reilly, a very respected IT publisher and conference organizer and Tim O’Reilly did one of the keynotes rallying troops around the open source flag. Oracle, naturally, was a sponsor but with the exception of the Edward Screven’s keynote they were well out of site. Aside from PowerPoint templates decorated in Oracle red Oracle’s presence was somewhat muted. Besides Edward Screven, the were no Oracle execs on site that I am aware of. I am sure it was by design. I don’t think they want to spook the community or do anything to feed the already prevalent belief that Oracle will eventually kill MySQL. Smart move by Oracle. Screven’s presentation “The state of the Dolphin” was designed to allay the fears of the community. I think he give it a good shot, but from where I was sitting, people were just not buying it. I was also watching the twitter stream (#mysqlconf) and it was a confirmation of what I saw in person. It is going to take a heck of a lot more for Oracle than a presentation to change the mind and earn the trust of the MySQL crowd. Also, while Screven was preaching integration in to Oracle stack the keynotes from Monty Widenius and Brian Aker were going in to a diametrically opposite direction.

It was difficult to judge how the remaining MySQL developers (many have left) feel about their new masters. You would hear tongue in cheek remarks from presenters at the sessions and some presenters lamenting about not being able to share more details. These guys and gals are used to the world of open source and they are used to sharing everything they know with the community. Words like “you can’s talk because of revenue recognition rules” mean nothing to them. They think this is just a way for Oracle to muzzle them. Welcome to the the post-Enron corporate world. This is not Oracle being evil; these corporate governance rules, imposed by the SEC, make little sense in the world of open source but when open source is part of a large corporation like Oracle, you can’t get away from it.

Speaking of MySQL developers who left Oracle. Two of them keynoted on the state of their latest adventures. Brian Aker talked about Drizzle, a fork of MySQL that attempts to bring MySQL back to its roots of being a simple database for putting together websites. His key point was directed squarely at Oracle: “There will never be Drizzle Corp”.  The entire Drizzle team left Oracle and found themselves at Rackspace, a major hosting provider turn Cloud Computing vendor. I have a lot of respect for Rackspace, they are a top notch infrastructure as a service provider, but why they felt they needed to “own” Drizzle is a mystery to me. I think there is a bit of Amazon envy at play here but who am I to question their intentions. At least Drizzle team has a home and that is a good thing. Drizzle guys had other sessions at the conference.

Another notable departure from Oracle is Monty Widenius. Monty is the father of MySQL and a life-long open source fanatic (I mean that is a good way). Monty is very passionate about MySQL, the community and open source in general and he put his money (he did sell MySQL to SUN) where his mouth is. He started a company called Monty Program AB where they do MySQL engineering for hire for customers willing to pay money and unwilling to wait for Oracle to fix bugs. They also ship their own plug-compatible version of MySQL called MariaDB. Monty did not mince the words; he declared MariaDB to be community developed open source alternative to Oracle MySQL. “Plug compatible, with better quality and more features” is how he described MariaDB fork of MySQL.

Another company started by the MySQL alumni is Percona and these guys have accumulated a lot of practical hands on experience dealing with tough MySQL issues. They seem to have grown rather rapidly in the past two years. I think all the uncertainty around MySQL associated with these two acquisitions has driven major customers to seek support elsewhere and Percona is definitely top notch. I don’t know how much they charge but if your business depends on MySQL, these are the guys to go to for help, not Oracle. Lots of good sessions by Percona guys and, you guessed it, they also have a fork of MySQL.

What was interesting at this conference was not who and what was there but rather who was not. In the past, there was a lot of presence from all of the major internet companies. You would see a lot of Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook. This time around I did not see any of them except a keynote from a MySQL team manager at Facebook who, coincidentally used to do the same job at Google. Twitter won an award but there was nobody from Twitter to accept it. There were no sessions on how to migrate from MySQL to Oracle database but there was a well attended user experience session on migrating from Oracle to MySQL and a more generic “Migrate to MySQL: How much will it cost me” session.

As I was writing this post, I was trying to think about what would be definitive difference between the MySQL conference and say IDUG (conference in Tampa is in May, be sure to attend) and between this year MySQL conference and the one I attended two years ago. One think that struck me is how much more technical depth IDUG sessions have compared to the MySQL conference. I don’t mean any disrespect to the MySQL community but the level of skill just does not seem to be the same. IDUG crowd on the average is quite a bit older than the MySQL; experience does matter. Even in areas where I would have expected deep skill and hands on experience, like Cloud Computing, I was very disappointed. One cloud computing session I attended was very introductory and the crowd still seemed a bit puzzled. Comparing MySQL Conference of 2010 to 2008, one thing stood out for me. In 2008, even with the acquisition of MySQL by SUN, I felt a definite positive energy in the community. I was actually very envious of the enthusiasm. There seemed to have been a lot of momentum. This time around there was no energy. It seemed, dare I say it, depressing. I don’t know if it is the economy, the Oracle acquisition or maybe it is just me but I think the magic is gone. I hope that the MySQL community finds its groove again.

P.S. There was actually a keynote called “The State of the MySQL Community” by Kaj Arno, VP of MySQL Community.

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